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Title: The Public vs. M. Gustave Flaubert
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THE PUBLIC _vs_. M. GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
The folios referred to in the trial are the folios either of the _Revue
de Paris_ or of the first edition of the book.--EDITOR.
_Speech of the Prosecuting Attorney_,
M. ERNEST PINARD
Gentlemen, in entering upon this debate, the Public Attorney is in the
presence of a difficulty which he cannot ignore. It cannot be put even
in the nature of a condemnation, since offenses to public morals and to
religion are somewhat vague and elastic expressions which it would be
necessary to define precisely. Nevertheless, when we speak to
right-minded, practical men we are sure of being sufficiently understood
to distinguish whether a certain page of a book carries an attack
against religion and morals or not. The difficulty is not in arousing a
prejudice, it is far more in explaining the work of which you are to
judge. It deals entirely with romance. If it were a newspaper article
which we were bringing before you, it could be seen at once where the
fault began and where it ended; it would simply be read by the ministry
and submitted to you for judgment. Here we are not concerned with a
newspaper article, but entirely with a romance, which begins the first
of October, finishes the fifteenth of December, and is composed of six
numbers, in the _Revue de Paris_, 1856. What is to be done in such a
case? What is the duty of the Public Ministry? To read the whole
romance? That is impossible. On the other hand, to read only the
incriminating texts would expose us to deep reproach. They could say to
us: If you do not show the case in all its parts, if you pass over that
which precedes and that which follows the incriminating passages, it is
evident that you wish to suppress the debate by restricting the ground
of discussion. In order to avoid this twofold difficulty, there is but
one course to follow, and that is, to relate to you the whole story of
the romance without reading any of it, or pointing out any incriminating
passage; then to cite incriminating texts, and finally to answer the
objections that may arise against the general method of indictment.
What is the title of the romance? _Madame Bovary_. This title in itself
explains nothing. There is a second in parentheses: _Provincial Morals
and Customs_. This is also a title which does not explain the thought of
the author but which gives some intimation of it. The author does not
endeavour to follow such or such a system of philosophy, true or false;
he endeavours to produce certain pictures, and you shall see what kind
of pictures! Without doubt, it is the husband who begins and who
terminates the book; but the most serious portrait of the work, the one
that illumines the other paintings, is that of Madame Bovary.
Here I relate, I do not cite. It takes the husband first at college, and
it must be stated that the boy already gave evidence of the kind of
husband he would make. He is excessively heavy and timid, so timid that
when he arrives at the college and is asked his name, he responds:
"_Charbovari_" He is so dull that he works continually without
advancing. He is never the first, nor is he the last in his class; he
is the type, if not of the cipher at least of the laughing-stock of the
college. After finishing his studies here, he goes to study medicine at
Rouen, in a fourth-story room overlooking the Seine, which his mother
rented for him, in the house of a dyer of her acquaintance. Here he
studies his medical books, and arrives little by little, not at the
degree of doctor of medicine, but that of health officer. He frequented
the inns, failed in his studies, but as for the rest, he had no other
passion than that of playing dominoes. This is M. Bovary.
The time comes for him to marry. His mother finds him a wife in the
widow of a sheriff's officer of Dieppe; she is virtuous and plain, is
forty-five years old, and has six thousand a year income. Only, the
lawyer who had her capital to invest set out one fine morning for
America, and the younger Madame Bovary was so much affected, so struck
down by this unexpected blow that she died of it. Here we have the first
marriage and the first scene.
M. Bovary, now being a widower, begins to think of marrying again. He
questions his memory; there is no need of going far; there immediately
comes to his mind the daughter of a neighboring farmer, Mile. Emma
Rouault, who had strangely aroused Madame Bovary's suspicions. Farmer
Rouault had but one daughter, and she had been brought up by the
Ursuline sisters at Rouen. She was little interested in matters of the
farm; her father was anxious for her to marry. The health officer
presented himself, there was no difficulty about the _dot_, and you
understand that with such a disposition on both sides, these things are
quickly settled. The marriage takes place. M. Bovary is at his wife's
knees, is the happiest of men and the blindest of husbands. His sole
occupation is anticipating his wife's wishes.
Here the role of M. Bovary ends; that of Madame Bovary becomes the
serious work of the book.
Gentlemen, does Madame Bovary love her husband, or try to love him? No;
and from the beginning there has been what we might call the scene of
initiation. From the moment of her marriage, another horizon stretched
itself out before her, a new life appeared to her. The proprietor of
Vaubyessard Castle gave a grand entertainment. He invited the health
officer and his wife, and this was for her an initiation into all the
ardour of voluptuousness! There she discovered the Duke of Laverdiere
who had had some success at Court; she waltzed with a viscount and
experienced an unusual disturbance of mind. From this moment she lived
a new life; her husband and all her surroundings became insupportable to
her. One day, in looking over some furniture, she hit a piece of wire
which tore her finger; it was the wire from her wedding bouquet.
To try to dispel the _ennui_ that was consuming her, M. Bovary
sacrificed his office and established himself at Yonville. Here was the
scene of the first fall. We are now in the second number. Madame
arrived at Yonville, and there, the first person she met upon whom she
could fix her attention was--not the notary of the place, but the only
clerk of that notary, Leon Dupuis. This is a young man who is making
his own way and is about to set out for the capital. Any other than
M. Bovary would have been disquieted by the visits of the young clerk,
but M. Bovary is so ingenuous that he believes in his wife's
virtue. Leon, wholly inexperienced, has the same idea. He goes away, and
the occasion is lost; but occasions are easily found again.
There was in the neighborhood of Yonville one Rodolphe Boulanger (you
understand that I am narrating). He was a man of thirty-four years old
and of a brutal temperament; he had had much success and many easy
conquests; he then had an actress for a mistress. He saw Madame Bovary;
she was young and charming; he resolved to make her his mistress. The
thing was easy; three meetings were sufficient to bring it about. The
first time he came to an agricultural meeting, the second time he paid
her a visit, the third time he accompanied her on a horseback ride which
her husband judged necessary to her health; it was then, in a first
visit to the forest, that the fall took place. Their meetings
multiplied after this, at Rodolphe's chateau and in the health officer's
garden. The lovers reached the extreme limits of voluptuousness! Madame
Bovary wished to elope with Rodolphe, but while Rodolphe dared not say
no, he wrote a letter in which he tried to show her that for many
reasons, he could not elope. Stricken down by the reception of this
letter, Madame Bovary had a brain fever, following which typhoid fever
declared itself. The fever killed the love, but the malady
remained. This is the second scene.
We come now to the third scene. The fall with Rodolphe was followed by a
religious reaction, but it was short; Madame Bovary was about to fall
anew. The husband thought the theatre useful in the convalescence of his
wife and took her to Rouen. In a box opposite that occupied by M. and
Madame Bovary, was Leon Dupuis, the notary's young clerk, who had made
his way to Paris, and who had now become strangely experienced and
knowing. He went to see Madame Bovary and proposed a _rendezvous_.
Madame Bovary suggested the cathedral. On coming out of the cathedral,
Leon proposed that they take a cab. She resisted at first, but Leon told
her that this was done in Paris, and there was no further obstacle. The
fall takes place in the cab! Meetings follow for Leon, as for Rodolphe,
at the health officer's house, and then at a room which they rented in
Rouen. Finally, she became weary of the second love, and here begins the
scene of distress; it is the last of the romance.
Madame Bovary was prodigal, having lavished gifts upon Rodolphe and
Leon; she had led a life of luxury and, in order to meet such expense
had put her name to a number of promissory notes. She had obtained a
power of attorney from her husband in the management of their common
patrimony, fell in with a usurer who discounted the notes which, not
being paid at the expiration of the time, were renewed under the name of
a boon companion. Then came the stamped paper, the protests, judgments
and executions, and, finally, the posting for sale of the furniture of
Monsieur Bovary, who knew nothing of all this. Reduced to the most
cruel extremities, Madame Bovary asked money from everybody, but got
none. Leon had nothing, and recoiled frightened at the idea of a crime
that was suggested to him for procuring funds. Having gone through every
degree of humiliation, Madame Bovary turned to Rodolphe; she was not
successful; Rodolphe did not have 3000 francs. There remained to her but
one course: to beg her husband's pardon? No. To explain the matter to
him? No, for this husband would be generous enough to pardon her, and
that was a humiliation which she could not accept: she must poison
We come now to grievous scenes. The husband is there beside his wife's
icy body. He has her night robe brought, orders her wrapped in it and
her remains placed in a triple coffin.
One day he opens a secretary and there finds Rodolphe's picture, his
letters and Leon's. Do you think his love is then shattered? No, no! on
the contrary, he is excited and extols this woman whom others have
possessed, as proved by these souvenirs of voluptuousness which she had
left to him; and from that moment he neglects his office, his family,
lets go to the winds the last vestige of his patrimony, and is found
dead one day in the arbor in his garden, holding in his hand a long lock
of black hair. This is the romance. I have related it to you,
suppressing no scene in it. It is called _Madame Bovary_. You could
with justice give it another title and call it. _Story of the Adulteries
of a Provincial Woman_.
Gentlemen, the first part of my task is fulfilled. I have related, I
shall now cite, and after the citations come the indictments which are
brought upon two counts: offense against public morals and offense
against religious morals. The offense against public morals lies in the
lascivious pictures which I have brought before your eyes; the offense
against religious morals consists in mingling voluptuous images with
sacred things. I now come to the citations. I will be brief, for you
will read the entire romance. I shall limit myself to citing four
scenes, or rather four tableaux. The first will be that of the fall with
Rodolphe; the second, the religious reaction between the two adulteries;
the third, the fall with Leon, which is the second adultery, and finally
the fourth, the death of Madame Bovary.
Before raising the curtain on these four pictures, permit me to inquire
what colour, what stroke of the brush M. Flaubert employs--for this
romance is a picture, and it is necessary to know to what school he
belongs--what colour he uses and what sort of portrait he makes of his
The general colour of the author, allow me to tell you, is a lascivious
colour, before, during, and after the falls! When she is a child ten or
twelve years of age, she is at the Ursuline convent. At this age, when
the young girl is not formed, when the woman cannot feel those emotions
which reveal to her a new world, she goes to confession:
"When she went to confession, she invented little sins in order that she
might stay there longer, kneeling in the shadow, her hands joined, her
face against the grating beneath the whispering of the priest. The
comparisons of betrothed, husband, celestial lover, and eternal
marriage, that recur in sermons, stirred within her soul depths of
Is it natural for a little girl to invent small sins, since we know that
for a child the smallest sins are confessed with the greatest
difficulty? And again, at this age, when a little girl is not formed,
does it not make what I have called a lascivious picture to show her
inventing little sins in the shadow, under the whisperings of the
priest, recalling comparisons she has heard about the affianced, the
celestial lover and eternal marriage which gave her a shiver of
Would you see Madame Bovary in her lesser acts, in a free state, without
a lover and without sin? I pass over those words, "the next day," and
that bride who left nothing to be discovered which could be divined or
found out, as the phrase in itself is more than equivocal; but we shall
see how it was with the husband:
The husband of the next day, "whom one would have taken for an old
maid," the bridegroom of this bride who "left nothing to be discovered
that could be divined," arose and went out, "his heart full of the
felicities of the night, with mind tranquil and flesh content," going
about "ruminating upon his happiness like one who is still enjoying
after dinner the taste of the truffles he is digesting."
It now remains, gentlemen, to determine upon the literary stamp of M.
Flaubert and upon the strokes of his brush. Now, at the Castle
Vaubyessard do you know what most attracted this young woman, what
struck her most forcibly? It is always the same thing--the Duke of
Laverdiere, as a lover--"as they say, of Marie-Antoinette, between the
Messrs. de Coigny and de Lauzun." "Emma's eyes turned upon him of their
own accord, as upon something extraordinary and august; he had lived at
Court and slept in the bed of queens!" Can it be said that this is only
an historic parenthesis? Sad and useless parenthesis! History can
authorise suspicions, but has not the right to establish them as
fact. History has spoken of the necklace in all romances; history has
spoken of a thousand things; but these are only suspicions and, I
repeat, I know not by what authority these suspicions should be
established as facts. And, since Marie-Antoinette died with the dignity
of a sovereign and the calmness of a Christian, her life-blood should
efface faults of which there are the strongest suspicions. M. Flaubert
was in need of a striking example in the painting of his heroine, but
Heaven knows why he has taken this one to express, all at once, the
perverse instincts and the ambition of Madame Bovary!
Madame Bovary dances very well, and here she is waltzing:
"They began slowly, then went more rapidly. They turned; all around them
was turning--the lamps, the furniture, the wainscoting, the floor, like
a disc on a pivot. On passing near the doors the bottom of Emma's dress
caught against his trousers. Their legs commingled; he looked down at
her; she raised her eyes to his. A torpor seized her; she stopped. They
started again, and with a more rapid movement; the Viscount, dragging
her along, disappeared with her to the end of the gallery, where,
panting, she almost fell, and for a moment rested her head upon his
breast. And then, still turning, but more slowly, he guided her back to
her seat. She leant back against the wall and covered her eyes with her
I know well that the waltz is more or less like this, but that makes it
no more moral!
Take Madame Bovary in her most simple acts, and we have always the same
stroke of the brush, on every page. Even Justin, the neighbouring
chemist's boy, undergoes some astonishment when he is initiated into the
secrets of this woman's toilette. He carries his voluptuous admiration
as far as the kitchen.
"With his elbows on the long board on which she was ironing, he greedily
watched all these women's clothes spread out about him, the dimity
petticoats, the fichus, the collars, and the drawers with
running-strings, wide at the hips and growing narrower below.
"What is that for?" asked the young fellow, passing his hand over the
crinoline or the hooks and eyes.
"'Why, haven't you ever seen anything?' Felicite answered laughing. 'As
if your mistress, Madame Homais, didn't wear the same.'"
The husband also asks, in the presence of this fresh-smelling woman,
whether the odour comes from the skin or from the chemise.
"Every evening he found a blazing fire, his dinner ready, easy-chairs,
and a well-dressed woman, charming with an odour of freshness, though no
one could say whence the perfume came, or if it were not her skin that
made odourous her chemise."
Enough of quotations in detail! You know now the physiognomy of Madame
Bovary in repose, when she is inciting no one, when she does not sin,
when she is still completely innocent, and when, on her return from a
rendezvous, she is by the side of her husband, whom she detests; you
know now the general colour of the picture, the general physiognomy of
Madame Bovary. The author has taken the greatest care, employed all the
prestige of his style in painting the portrait of this woman. Has he
tried to show her on the side of intelligence? Never. From the side of
the heart? Not at all. On the part of mind? No. From the side of
physical beauty? Not even that. Oh! I know very well that the portrait
of Madame Bovary after the adultery is most brilliant; but the picture
is above all lascivious, the post is voluptuous, the beauty a beauty of
I come now to the four important quotations; I shall make but four; I
hold to my outline: I have said that the first would be the love for
Rodolphe, the second the religious reaction, the third the love for
Leon, the fourth her death.
Here is the first. Madame Bovary is near her fall, nearly ready to
"Domestic mediocrity drove her to lewd fancies, marriage tendernesses to
adulterous desires. She would have liked Charles to beat her, that she
might have a better right to hate him, to revenge herself upon him."
What was it that seduced Rodolphe and prepared him? The opening of
Madame Bovary's dress which had burst in places along the seams of the
corsage. Rodolphe took his servant to Bovary's house, to bleed him. The
servant was very ill, and Madame Bovary held the basin.
"Madame Bovary took the basin to put it under the table. With the
movement she made in bending down, her skirt (it was a summer frock with
four flounces, yellow, long in the waist and wide in the skirt) spread
out around her on the flags of the room; and as Emma, stooping,
staggered a little as she stretched out her arms, the stuff here and
there gave with the inflections of her bust."
Here is Rodolphe's reflection: "He again saw Emma in her room, dressed
as he had seen her, and he undressed her."
It is the first day they had spoken to each other. "They looked at one
another. A supreme desire made their dry lips tremble, and softly,
without an effort, their fingers intertwined."
These are the preliminaries of the fall. It is necessary to read the
"When the habit was ready, Charles wrote to Monsieur Boulanger that his
wife was at his command, and that they counted on his good-nature.
"The next day at noon, Rodolphe appeared at Charles's door with two
saddle-horses. One had pink rosettes at his ears and a deerskin
"Rodolphe had put on high soft boots, saying to himself that no doubt
she had never seen anything like them. In fact, Emma was charmed with
his appearance as he stood on the landing in his great velvet coat and
white corduroy breeches."
"As soon as he felt the ground, Emma's horse set off at a
gallop. Rodolphe galloped by her side."
Here they are in the forest.
"He drew her farther on to a small pool where duckweeds made a greenness
on the water. Faded waterlilies lay motionless between the reeds. At the
noise of their steps in the grass, frogs jumped away to hide themselves.
"'I am wrong! I am wrong!' she said. 'I am mad to listen to you!'"
"'Why? Emma! Emma!'"
"'Oh, Rodolphe!' said the young woman slowly, leaning on his shoulder."
"The cloth of her habit caught against the velvet of his coat. She threw
back her white neck, swelling with a sigh, and faltering, in tears, with
a long shudder and hiding her face, she gave herself up to him."
Then she arose and, after shaking off the fatigue of voluptuousness,
returned to the domestic hearth, to that hearth where she would find a
husband who adored her. After this first fall, after this first
adultery, this first fault, is it a sentiment of remorse that she feels,
in the presence of this deceived husband who adores her? No! with a bold
front, she enters, glorifying adultery.
"But when she saw herself in the glass she wondered at her face. Never
had her eyes been so large, so black, of so profound a depth. Something
subtle about her being transfigured her. She repeated, 'I have a lover!
a lover!' delighting at the idea as if a second puberty had come to
her. So at last she was to know those joys of love, that fever of
happiness of which she had despaired! She was entering upon marvels
where all would be passion, ecstasy, delirium."
Thus, from this first fault, this first fall, she glorified adultery,
she sang the song of adultery, its poesy and its delights. This,
gentlemen, to me is much more dangerous and immoral than the fall
itself! Gentlemen, all pales before this glorification of adultery, even
the rendezvous at night some time after:
"To call her, Rodolphe threw a sprinkle of sand at the shutters. She
jumped up with a start; but sometimes he had to wait, for Charles had a
mania for chatting by the fireside, and he would not stop. She was wild
with impatience; if her eyes could have done it, she would have hurled
him out at the window. At last she would begin to undress, then take up
a book, and go on reading very quietly as if the book amused her. But
Charles, who was in bed, called to her to come too.
"'Come, now, Emma,' he said, 'it is time.'
"'Yes, I am coming,' she answered.
"Then, as the candles dazzled him, he turned to the wall and fell
asleep. She escaped, smiling, palpitating, undressed.
"Rodolphe had a large cloak; he wrapped her in it, and putting his arm
around her waist, he drew her without a word to the end of the garden."
"It was in the arbour, on the same seat of old sticks where formerly
Leon had looked at her so amorously on the summer evenings. She never
thought of him now.
"The cold of the nights made them clasp closer; the sighs of their lips
seemed to them deeper; their eyes, that they could hardly see, larger;
and in the midst of the silence low words were spoken that fell on their
souls sonorous crystalline, and reverberating in multiplied vibrations."
Gentlemen, do you know of language anywhere in the world more
expressive? Have you ever seen a more lascivious picture? Listen
"Never had Madame Bovary been so beautiful as at this period; she had
that indefinable beauty that results from joy, from enthusiasm, from
success, and that is only the harmony of temperament with
circumstances. Her desires, her sorrows, the experience of pleasure and
her ever-young illusions had, as soil and rain and winds and the sun
make flowers grow, gradually developed her, and she at length blossomed
forth in all the plentitude of her nature. Her eyelids seemed chiselled
expressly for her long amorous looks in which the pupil disappeared,
while a strong inspiration expanded her delicate nostrils and raised the
fleshy corner of her lips, shaded in the light by a little black
down. One would have thought that an artist apt in conception had
arranged the curls of hair upon her neck; they fell in a thick mass,
negligently and with the changing chances of their adultery that unbound
them every day. Her voice now took more mellow inflections, her figure
also; something subtle and penetrating escaped even from the folds of
her gown and from the line of her foot. Charles, as when they were first
married, thought her delicious and quite irresistible."
Up to this time this woman's beauty had consisted of her grace, her
elegance, and her clothes; finally she is shown to you without a veil
and you can say whether adultery has embellished her or not.
"'Take me away,' she cried, 'carry me off! Oh, I entreat you!'
"And she threw herself upon his mouth, as if to seize there the
unexpected consent it breathed forth in a kiss."
Here is a portrait, gentlemen, which M. Flaubert knows well how to draw.
How the eyes of this woman enlarge! Something ravishing expands around
her, and then her fall! Her beauty has never been so brilliant as the
next day after her fall and the days following. What the author shows
you is the poetry of adultery, and I ask you again whether these
lascivious pages do not express a profound immorality!
I come now to the second situation, which is the religious
reaction. Madame Bovary is very ill, is at death's door. She is brought
back to life, and her convalescence is made remarkable by a little
"It was at this hour that Monsieur Bournisien came to see her. He
inquired after her health, gave her news, exhorted her to religion in a
coaxing little gossip that was not without its charm. The mere thought
of his cassock comforted her."
Finally, she goes to communion. I do not like much to meet these holy
things in a romance; but at least, when one speaks of them, he need not
travesty them by his language. Is there in this adulterous woman going
to communion anything of the repentant faith of a Magdalene? No, no; she
is always the same passionate woman, seeking illusions and seeking them
even among the most august and holy things.
"One day, when at the height of her illness, she had thought herself
dying, and had asked for the communion; and, while they were making the
preparations in her room for the sacrament, while they were turning the
night-table covered with sirups into an altar, and while Felicite was
strewing dahlia flowers on the floor, Emma felt some power passing over
her that freed her from her pains, from all perception, from all
feeling. Her body, relieved, no longer thought; another life was
beginning; it seemed to her that her being, mounting toward God, would
be annihilated in that love like a burning incense that melts into
In what tongue does one pray to God in language addressed to a lover in
the outpourings of adultery? Without doubt they will tell us it is local
colour, and excuse it on the ground that a vapourous, romantic woman
does nothing, even in religion, like anybody else. There is no local
colour which can excuse this mixture! Voluptuous one day, religious the
next, there is no woman, even in other countries, under the sky of Spain
or Italy, who murmurs to God the adulterous caresses which she gives her
lover. You can appreciate this language, gentlemen, and you will not
excuse adulterous words being introduced in any way into the sanctuary
of the Divinity!
This is the second situation. I now come to the third, which is a series
After the religious transition, Madame Bovary is again ready to
fall. She goes to the theatre at Rouen. The play is _Lucia di
Lammermoor_. Emma returns to her old self.
"Ah! if in the freshness of her beauty, before the pollution of marriage
and the disillusions of adultery, she could have anchored her life upon
some great, strong heart, then virtue, tenderness, voluptuousness, and
duty blending, she would never have fallen from so high a happiness."
Seeing Lagardy upon the stage, she had a desire to run into his arms, to
take refuge in his strength, even as in the incarnation of love, and of
saying to him: "Take me, take me away, let us go! thine, thine, with
thee are all my ardour and all my dreams!"
Leon was with the Bovarys.
"He was standing behind her, leaning with his shoulder against the wall
of the box; now and again she felt herself shuddering beneath the hot
breath from his nostrils falling upon her hair."
You were spoken to just now of the pollution of marriage; then you are
shown adultery in all its poesy, in its ineffable seductions. I have
said that the expression should be modified to read: the disillusions of
marriage and the pollution of adultery. Very often when one is married,
in the place of happiness without clouds which one promises himself, he
finds but sacrifice and bitterness. The word disillusion can then be
used justifiably, that of pollution, never.
Leon and Emma have a rendezvous at the cathedral. They look around or
they do not, it makes no difference. They go out.
"A lad was playing about the close.
"'Go and get me a cab!'
"The child bounded off like a ball by the Rue Quartre-Vents; then they
were alone a few minutes, face to face, and a little embarrassed.
"'Ah! Leon! Really--I don't know--if I ought,' she whispered. Then with
a more serious air, 'Do you know, it is very improper?'
"'How so?' replied the clerk. 'It is done at Paris.'
"And that, as an irresistible argument, decided her."
We know now, gentlemen, that the fall did not take place in the cab.
Through a scruple which honors him, the editor of the _Revue de Paris_
has suppressed the passage of the fall in the cab. But if the _Revue_
lowered the blinds of the cab, it does allow us to penetrate into the
room where they found a rendezvous.
Emma wished to leave it, because she had given her word that she would
return that evening.
"Moreover, Charles expected her, and in her heart she felt already that
cowardly docility that is for some women at once the chastisement and
atonement of adultery."
Once upon the sidewalk, Leon continued to walk; she followed him as far
as the hotel; he mounted the stairs, opened the door and entered. What
an embrace! Words followed each other quickly after the kisses. They
told the disappointments of the week, their presentiments, their fears
about the letters; but now all was forgotten, and they were face to
face, with their laugh of voluptuousness and terms of endearment.
"The bed was large, of mahogany, in the shape of a boat. The curtains
were in red levantine, that hung from the ceiling and bulged out too
much towards the bell-shaped bed-side; and nothing in the world was so
lovely as her brown head and white skin standing out against this purple
colour, when, with a movement of shame, she crossed her bare arms,
hiding her face in her hands.
"The warm room, with its discreet carpet, its gay ornaments, and its
calm light, seemed made for the intimacies of passion."
We are told what happened in that room. Here is still a passage, very
important as a piece of lascivious painting:
"How they loved that dear room, so full of gaiety, despite of its rather
faded splendour! They always found the furniture in the same place, and
sometimes hairpins that she had forgotten the Thursday before under the
pedestal of the clock. They lunched by the fireside on a little round
table, inlaid with rosewood. Emma carved, put bits on his plate with
all sorts of coquettish ways, and she laughed with a sonorous and
libertine laugh when the froth of the champagne ran over from the glass
to the rings on her fingers. They were so completely lost in the
possession of each other that they thought themselves in their own
house, and that they would live there till death, like two spouses
eternally young. They said 'our room,' 'our carpet,' she even said 'my
slippers,' a gift of Leon's, a whim she had had. They were pink satin,
bordered with swansdown. When she sat on his knees, her leg, then too
short, hung in the air, and the dainty shoe, that had no back to it, was
held on only by the toes to her bare foot.
"He for the first time enjoyed the inexpressible delicacy of feminine
refinements. He had never met this grace of language, this reserve of
clothing, these poses of the weary dove. He admired the exaltation of
her soul and the lace on her petticoat. Besides, was she not 'a lady'
and a married woman--a real mistress, in fine?"
This, gentlemen, is a description which leaves nothing to be desired, I
hope, from the point of view of conviction. Here is another, or rather
here is the continuation of the same scene:
"She used some words which inflamed him, with some kisses which drew
forth his soul. Where had she learned these caresses almost immaterial,
so profound and evasive were they?"
Oh! I well understand, gentlemen, the disgust inspired in her by that
husband who wished to embrace her upon her return; I comprehend
admirably that after a rendezvous of this kind, she felt with horror at
night, "that man against her flesh stretched out asleep."
That is not all, for according to the last tableau that I cannot omit,
she came to be weary of her voluptuousness.
"She was constantly promising herself a profound felicity on her next
journey. Then she confessed to herself that she felt nothing
extraordinary. This disappointment quickly gave way to a new hope, and
Emma returned to him more inflamed, more eager than ever. She undressed
hastily, tearing off the thin laces of her corset that nestled around
her hips like a gliding snake. She went on tip-toe, barefooted, to see
once more that the door was closed; then, pale, serious, and without
speaking, with one movement she threw herself upon his breast with a
I notice here two things, gentlemen, an admirable picture, the product
of a talented hand, but an execrable picture from a moral point of
view. Yes, M. Flaubert knows how to embellish his paintings with all
the resources of art, but without the discretion of art. With him there
is no gauze, no veils, it is nature in all her nudity, in all her
Still another quotation:
"They knew one another too well for any of those surprises of possession
that increase its joys a hundred-fold. She was as sick of him as he was
weary of her. Emma found again in adultery all the platitudes of
The platitudes of marriage and the poetry of adultery! Sometimes it is
the pollution of marriage, sometimes the platitudes, but always the
poetry of adultery. These, gentlemen, are the situations which
M. Flaubert loves to paint, and which, unfortunately, he paints only too
I have related three scenes: the scene with Rodolphe, and you have seen
the fall in the forest, the glorification of adultery, and this woman
whose beauty became greater with this poesy. I have spoken of the
religious transition, and you saw there a prayer imprinted with
adulterous language. I have spoken of the second fall, I have unrolled
before you the scenes which took place with Leon. I have shown you the
scene of the cab--suppressed--and I have shown you the picture of the
room and the bed. Now that we believe your convictions are formed, we
come to the last scene,--that of the punishment.
Numerous excisions have been made, it would appear, by the _Revue de
Paris_. Here are the terms in which M. Flaubert complains of it:
"Some consideration which I do not appreciate has led the _Revue de
Paris_ to suppress the number of December 1st. Its scruples being
revived on the occasion of the present number, it has seen fit to cut
out still more passages. In consequence, I wish to deny all
responsibility in the lines which follow; the reader is informed that he
sees only fragments and not the complete work."
Let us pass, then, over these fragments and come to the death. She
poisons herself. She poisons herself, why? Ah! it is a very little
thing, is death, she thinks; I am going to fall asleep and all will be
finished. Then, without remorse, without an avowal, without a tear of
repentance over this suicide which is brought about by adulteries in the
night watches, she goes to receive the sacrament for the dying. Why the
sacrament, since in her last thought she is going to annihilation? Why,
when there is not a tear, not a sigh of the Magdalene over her crime of
infidelity, her suicide, or her adulteries?
After this scene comes that of extreme unction. These are holy and
sacred words for all. It is with these words that our ancestors have
fallen asleep, our fathers and our relatives, and it is with them that
one day our children will see us sleep. When one wishes to make use of
them, it should be done with exactness; it is not necessary, at least to
accompany them with the voluptuous image of a past life.
You know how the priest makes the holy unctions upon the forehead, the
ears, upon the mouth, the feet, pronouncing at the same time the
liturgical phrases: _quidquam per pedes, per auras, per pectus_, etc.,
always following with the words _misericordia_ ... sin on one side and
pity on the other. These holy, sacred words should be reproduced
exactly; and if they cannot be reproduced exactly, at least nothing
voluptuous should be put with them.
"She turned her face slowly and seemed filled with joy on seeing
suddenly the violet stole, no doubt finding again, in the midst of a
temporary lull in her pain, the lost voluptuousness of her first
mystical transports, with the visions of eternal beatitude that were
"The priest rose to take the crucifix; then she stretched forward her
neck as one who is athirst, and gluing her lips to the body of the
Man-God, she pressed upon it with all her expiring strength the fullest
kiss of love that she had ever given. Then he recited the _Misereatur_
and the _Indulgentiam_, dipped his right thumb in the oil and began to
give extreme unction. First, upon the eyes, that had so coveted all
worldly pomp; then upon the nostrils, that had been greedy of the warm
breeze and amorous odours; then upon the mouth that had uttered lies,
that had been curled with pride and cried out in lewdness; then upon the
hands, that had delighted in sensual touches; and finally upon the soles
of the feet, so swift of yore, when she was running to satisfy her
desires, and that would now walk no more."
Now, in the prayers for the dying which the priest recites, at the end
or at the close of each verse occur these words: "Christian soul, go out
to a higher region." They are murmured at the moment when the last
breath of the dying escapes from his lips. The priest recites, etc.
"As the death-rattle became stronger the priest prayed faster; his
prayers mingled with the stifled sobs of Bovary, and sometimes all
seemed lost in the muffled murmur of the Latin syllables that tolled
like a passing-bell."
After the fashion of alternating these words, the author has tried to
make for them a sort of reply. He puts upon the sidewalk a blind man who
intones a song of which the profane words are a kind of response to the
prayers for the dying.
"Suddenly on the pavement was heard a loud noise of clogs and the
clattering of a stick; and a voice rose--a raucous voice--that sang--
"'Maids in the warmth of a summer day
Dream of love and of love alway.
The wind is strong this summer day,
Her petticoat has flown away.'"
This is the moment when Madame Bovary dies.
Thus we have here the picture: on one side the priest reciting the
prayers for the dying; on the other the hand-organ player who excites
from the dying woman
"an atrocious, frantic, despairing laugh, thinking she saw the hideous
face of the poor wretch that stood out against the eternal night like a
menace.... She fell back upon the mattress in a convulsion. They all
drew near. She was dead."
And then later, when the body is cold, above all should the cadaver,
which the soul has just left, be respected. When the husband is there
on his knees, weeping for his wife, when he extends the shroud over her,
any other would have stopped, but M. Flaubert makes a final stroke with
"The sheet sank in from her breast to her knees, and then rose at the
tips of her toes."
This the scene of death. I have abridged it and have grouped it after a
fashion. It is now for you to judge and determine whether there is a
mixture of the sacred and the profane in it, or rather, a mixture of the
sacred and the voluptuous.
I have related the romance, I have brought a charge against it and,
permit me to say, against the kind of art that M. Flaubert cultivates,
the kind that is realistic but not discreet. You shall see to what
limits he has gone. A copy of the _Artiste_ lately came to my hand; it
is not for us to make accusations against the _Artiste_, but to learn to
what school M. Flaubert belongs, and I ask your permission to read you
some lines, which have nothing to do with M. Flaubert's prosecuted book,
only to show to what a degree he excels in this kind of painting. He
loves to paint temptations, especially the temptations to which Madame
Bovary succumbed. Well, I find a model of its kind in the lines to
follow, from the _Artiste_, for the month of January, signed _Gustave
Flaubert_, upon the temptation of Saint Anthony. Heaven knows it is a
subject upon which many things might be said, but I do not believe it
possible to give more vivacity to the image, stronger lines to the
picture. Apollonius says to Saint Anthony:--
"What is knowledge? What is glory? Wouldst thou refresh thine eyes
under the humid jasmines? Wouldst thou feel thy body sink itself, as in
a wave, in the sweet flesh of swooning women?"
Ah! well! here is the same colour, the same strength of the brush, the
same vivacity of expression!
To resume. I have analyzed the book, I have related the story without
forgetting a page, I have then made the charge, which was the second
part of my task. I have exhibited some of the portraits, I have shown
Madame Bovary in repose, by the side of her husband, in contact with
those whom she could not tempt, and I have pointed out to you the
lascivious colour of that portrait! Then I have analyzed some of the
great scenes: the fall with Rodolphe, the religious transition, the
meetings with Leon, the death scene, and in all this I find the double
count of offense against public morals and against religion.
I had need of but two scenes: Do you not see the moral outrage in the
fall with Rodolphe? Do you not see the glorification of adultery in it?
And then, the religious outrage, which I find in the drawing of the
confession, in the religious transition, and finally, the scene of
You have before you, gentlemen, three guilty ones: M. Flaubert, the
author of the book, M. Pichat who accepted it, and M. Pillet, who
printed it. In this matter, there is no misdemeanor without publicity,
and all those concerned in the publicity should be equally blamed. But
we hasten to say that the manager of the _Revue_ and the printer are
only in the second rank. The principal offender is the author,
M. Flaubert; M. Flaubert who admonished by a note from the editor,
protested against the suppression which had been made in his work. After
him comes M. Laurent Pichat, from whom you will demand a reason, not
for the suppression which he has made, but of that which he should have
made; and finally comes the printer, who is a sentinel at the door of
scandal. M. Pillet, besides, is an honourable man against whom I have
nothing to say. We ask but one thing of you, which is to apply the law
to him. Printers should read; when they do not read or have read what
they print, it is at their own risk and peril. Printers are not
machines; they have a privilege, they take an oath, they are in a
special situation and they are responsible. Again, they are, if you
will permit the expression, like an advanced guard; if they allow a
misdemeanor to pass, it is like allowing the enemy to pass. Make the
penalty as mild as you will for Pillet, be as indulgent as you like with
the manager of the _Revue_; but as for Flaubert, the principal culprit,
it is for him you should reserve your severities!
My task is accomplished; we await the objections on the part of the
defense. The general objection will be: But after all the romance is
moral on the whole, for is not adultery punished?
To this objection there are two replies: I believe that in a
hypothetically moral work, a moral conclusion cannot be reached by the
presentation of the lascivious details we find here. And again I say:
that the work is not moral at the foundation.
I say, gentlemen, that lascivious details cannot be covered by a moral
conclusion, otherwise one could relate all the orgies imaginable,
describe all the turpitude of a public woman, making her die in a
charity bed of a hospital. It would be allowable to study and depict
all the poses of lasciviousness. It would be going against all the
rules of good sense. It would place the poison at the door of all, the
remedy at the doors of few, if there were any remedy. Who are the ones
to read M. Flaubert's romance? Are they men who are interested in
political or social economy? No! The light pages of Madame Bovary fall
into hands still lighter, into the hands of young girls, sometimes of
married women. Well, when the imagination has been seduced, when this
seduction has fallen upon the heart, when the heart shall have told it
to the senses, do you believe that cold reason would have much power
against this seduction of sense and sentiment? And then, man should not
clothe himself too much in his power and his virtue; man has low
instincts and high ideas, and, with all, virtue is only the consequence
of an effort ofttimes laborious. Lascivious pictures have generally more
influence than cold reason. This is what I respond to that theory, that
is, as a first response; but I have a second.
I hold that the romance of _Madame Bovary_, from a philosophic point of
view, is not moral. Without doubt Madame Bovary died of poison; she
suffered much, it is true; but she died at her own time and in her own
way, not because she had committed adultery but because she wished to;
she died in all the prestige of her youth and beauty; she died after
having two lovers, leaving a husband who loved her, who adored her, who
found Rodolphe's portrait, his letters and Leon's, who read the letters
of a woman twice an adulteress, and who, after that, loved her still
more, even on the other side of the tomb. Who would condemn this woman
in the book? No one. Such is the conclusion. There is not in the book a
person who condemns her. If you can find one wise person, if you can
find one single principal virtue by which the adulteress is condemned, I
am wrong. But if in all the book there is not a person who makes her
bow her head, there is not an idea, a line, by virtue of which the
adulteress is scourged, it is I who am right, and the book is immoral!
Should it be in the name of conjugal honor that the book be condemned?
No, for conjugal honor is represented here by a devoted husband who,
after the death of his wife, meets Rodolphe and seeks to find upon the
face of the lover the features of the woman he loved. I ask you whether
you could stigmatize this woman in the name of conjugal honor when there
is not in the book a single word where the husband does not bow before
Should it be in the name of public opinion? No, for public opinion is
personified in a grotesque being, in the Homais apothecary surrounded by
ridiculous persons whom this woman dominated.
Will you condemn it in the name of religious sentiment? No, for this
sentiment you see personified in the curate Bournisien, a priest as
grotesque as the apothecary, believing only in physical suffering, never
in moral, and little more than a materialist.
Will you condemn it in the name of the author's conscience? I know not
what the author thinks, but in chapter 10, the only philosophical one of
his book, I read the following:
"There is always after the death of any one a kind of stupefaction; so
difficult is it to grasp this advent of nothingness and to resign
ourselves to believe in it."
This is not a cry of unbelief, but it is at least a cry of
scepticism. Without doubt it is difficult to comprehend and believe it,
but why this stupefaction which manifest's itself at death? Why?
Because this surprise is something that is a mystery, because it is
difficult to comprehend and judge, although one must resign himself to
it. And as for me, I say that if death is the beginning of annihilation,
that if the devoted husband feels his love increase on learning of the
adulteries of his wife, that if opinion is represented by a grotesque
being, that if religious sentiment is represented by a ridiculous
priest, one person alone is right, and that is Emma Bovary,--Messalina
was right against Juvenal.
This is the conclusion of the book, drawn not by the author, but by a
man who reflects and goes to the depths of things, by a man who has
sought in this book for a person who could rule this woman. There is
none there. The only person who ruled was Madame Bovary. It is
necessary to seek elsewhere than in the book; we must look to Christian
morals, which are the foundation of modern civilization. By this
standard all explains itself, all becomes clear.
In its name the adulteress is stigmatized, condemned, not because her
act is an imprudence, exposing her to disillusions and regrets, but
because it is a crime against the family. You stigmatize and condemn
suicide, not because it is a foolish thing (the fool is not
responsible), not because it is a cowardly act (for it sometimes
requires a certain physical courage), but because it is a scorn of duty
in the life we are living, and the cry of unbelief in the life to come.
This code of morals stigmatizes realistic literature, not because it
paints the passions: hatred, vengeance, love--the world sees but the
surface and art should paint them--but not paint them without bridle,
without limits. Art without rules is not art. It is like a woman who
discards all clothing. To impose upon art the one rule of public decency
is not to subject it, not to dishonor it. One grows great only by rule.
These, gentlemen, are the principles which we profess, this the doctrine
which we defend with conscience.
* * * * *
_Plea for the Defense, by_
Gentlemen, M. Gustave Flaubert has been accused before you of making a
bad book; of having, in this book, outraged public morals and religion.
M. Gustave Flaubert is beside me and affirms before you that he has made
an honest book; he affirms before you that the thought in his book, from
the first line to the last, is a moral thought; and that, if it were not
perverted (and you have seen during the last hour how great a talent one
may have for perverting a thought) it would be (and will become again
presently) for you, as it has been already for the readers of the book,
an eminently moral and religious thought capable of being translated
into these words: the excitation of virtue through the horror of vice.
I bring M. Gustave Flaubert's affirmation here to you, and I put it
fearlessly in the light of the prosecuting attorney's speech, for this
affirmation is grave; and it is through the personality of its maker,
through the circumstances which have led to the writing of the book,
that I am going to make it understood to you.
The affirmation is grave on account of the personality that makes it:
and, permit me to say to you that M. Gustave Flaubert is not to me an
unknown man who has instructions to give me, and who has need of
recommendations from me--I speak not only of his morality but of his
position. I come here, into this precinct, fulfilling a duty of
conscience after reading the book, after feeling myself exalted, by this
reading, in all that is honest and profoundly religious. But, at the
same time that I come fulfilling a duty of conscience, I come to fulfill
a duty of friendship. I remember, and I can never forget, that his
father was an old friend of mine. His father, by whose friendship I was
long honoured, to the last day of his life, his father,--permit me to
say his illustrious father,--was for thirty years surgeon-in-chief at
the hospital at Rouen. He was in charge of the Dupuytren dissecting
room, and in giving to science great instruction, he has endowed it with
some great names; I will mention but one, that of Cloquet. He has not
only left for himself a good name in science, he has left a grand
memento in his immense service to humanity. And at the same time I am
recalling my bond of friendship with him, I wish to tell you that his
son, who has been dragged into Court for an outrage against morals and
religion, this son is the friend of my children, as I was the friend of
his father. I know his thought, I know his intentions, and the
counsellor has the right here of placing himself as a personal guaranty
of his client.
Gentlemen, a great name and great memories have obligations. Children
were not wanting to M. Flaubert. There were three of them, two sons, and
a daughter who died at twenty-one. The eldest has been judged worthy to
succeed his father; and he is to-day, as he has been for many years,
carrying on the mission which his father conducted for thirty years. The
younger son is here; he is at your bar. In leaving them a considerable
fortune and a great name, their father has left upon them the obligation
of being men of intelligence and of heart; that is to say, useful men.
The brother of my client has been thrown into a career where each day
brings its own service. This one has devoted his life to study and to
letters, the work before you being his first work. This first work,
gentlemen, which provokes the passions, as the Government Attorney has
said, is the result of long study and much thought. M. Gustave Flaubert
is a man of serious character, turning his attention, through his very
nature, to serious subjects, to sad subjects. He is not the man whom the
prosecuting attorney, in fifteen or twenty lines bitten out here and
there, has presented to you as a maker of lascivious pictures. No; there
is in his nature, I repeat, all that is gravest, most serious, and even
the saddest that one could imagine. His book, by restoring a single
phrase, by putting beside the quoted lines the lines which precede and
follow, will take on its veritable colour, as soon as you understand the
intentions of the author. And, of the too clever words to which you have
listened, there will remain to you only the memory of a sentiment of
profound admiration for a talent which can thus transform things.
I have told you that M. Gustave Flaubert was a serious and grave man.
His studies, conforming to his nature, have been serious and broad. They
have embraced not only all branches of literature, but the right
branches. M. Flaubert is not the man to be content with observations of
even the best where he lived; he has sought out the best in other
places; _Qui mores multorum vidit et urbes_.
After his father's death and the completion of his studies at college,
he visited Italy, and from 1848 to 1852 traveled through the countries
of the Orient,--Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor--in which countries,
doubtless, a man traveling through and bringing to his travels a fine
intelligence, could acquire something exalted, something poetic, as well
as the colour and prestige of style which the public minister has just
pointed out, to make good the misdemeanor that he imputes. That prestige
of style, those literary qualities pointed to with _eclat_ in this
debate, are there, but after no fashion can they be brought up for
Since his return, in 1852, M. Gustave Flaubert has written and sought to
produce in a grand outline the result of his close and serious studies,
the result of what he had gathered in his journeys.
What is the outline he has chosen, the subject he has taken, and how has
he treated it? My client belongs to any of the schools, whose names I
have just learned in the Attorney's speech. Heaven knows he belongs to
the realistic school, in that he occupies himself with the reality of
things. He belongs to the psychological school, in the sense that it is
not material things which engage him, but human sentiment and the
development of the passions wherever the human being is placed. He
belongs to the romantic school less perhaps than to any other, because,
if romanticism appears in his book, as does realism, it appears only in
some ironical expressions here and there, which the public attorney has
taken seriously. What M. Flaubert especially wished was to take a
subject of study from real life, creating from it some true types of the
middle class, arriving finally at some useful result. Yes, what has most
occupied my client in the studies to which he has devoted himself, is
precisely this useful aim, followed out in putting upon the scene three
or four personages from actual society, living in the conditions of real
life, and presenting them to the eyes of the reader in a true picture of
what is met with very often in the world.
The Prosecuting Attorney, summing up his opinion of _Madame Bovary_, has
"The second title of this work might be: _The Story of the Adulteries of
a Provincial Woman_."
I protest vigorously against this title. This alone, had I not listened
to your speech from beginning to end, would prove to me the prejudice in
which you are firmly bound. No! the second title of this work is not:
_The Story of the Adulteries of a Provincial Woman_; it is, if it is
absolutely necessary to have a second title: the story of the education
too often met with in the provinces; the story of the perils to which
such an education leads; the story of degradation, of dishonesty, of
suicide, considered as a consequence of a first fault, and a fault led
up to through wrong-doing, by which a young woman is often carried
away. It is the story of an education, and the deplorable life of which
such an education is often the preface. This is what M. Flaubert
desired to paint, and not the adulteries of a woman of the provinces.
You will see this at once on reading the incriminated book.
Now, the prosecuting attorney perceives in all this, and through it all,
a lascivious colour. If it were possible to take the number of lines of
the book which he has cut out, and put parallel to them other lines that
he has left, we should have a total proportion of about one to five
hundred; and you would see that this proportion of one to five hundred
was in no way of a lascivious colour; it exists only under the
conditions of being cut out and commented upon.
Now, what has M. Flaubert desired to paint? First, education given to a
woman which is above the conditions to which she was born--something
that too often happens among us, it must be confessed. Then, the mixture
of discordant elements that are thus produced in the intelligence of the
woman; and then when marriage comes, especially if the marriage is not
in accordance with the education, but rather with the conditions under
which the woman was born, the author explains all these facts which
occur in the situation that he depicts.
What has he shown? He shows a woman entering upon vice because of a
disappointing match; then vice in its last degree, degradation and
wretchedness. Presently, when through the reading of several passages,
I shall have made you acquainted with the book as a whole, I shall
demand of this tribunal the privilege of their accepting the question on
these terms: Would this book, put into the hands of a young woman, have
the effect of leading her towards easy pleasures, towards adultery, or,
on the contrary, would it show her the danger of the first step, and
bring upon her a shiver of horror? The question thus put, your
conscience would soon decide.
I have here stated that M. Flaubert wished to paint a woman who, instead
of trying to adapt herself to the conditions in which she was placed, to
her position and her birth, instead of seeking to make herself a part of
the life to which she belonged, was occupied with a thousand foreign
aspirations drawn from an education too far above her; instead of
accommodating herself to the duties of her position, of being the
tranquil wife of a country doctor with whom she should pass her days, in
place of seeking her happiness in her house and in her marriage, sought
it in interminable fancies; and then, meeting a young man upon the way
who coquetted with her, she played the same game with him (Heaven knows
they were both inexperienced enough!) urging herself on by degrees, and
frightened when she turned to the religion of her early years and found
it insufficient. We shall see presently why this was so. At first, the
young man's ignorance and her own preserves her from danger. But she
soon meets a man, of the kind of which there are too many in the world,
who takes possession of her--this poor woman, already perverted and
ready to stray. Here is the main point; now it is necessary to see what
the book makes of it.
The Public Minister becomes incensed, and I believe wrongly so from the
standard of conscience and the human heart, over that first scene, where
Madame Bovary finds a sort of pleasure, of joy, in having broken her
prison, and returns to her home saying: "I have a lover." Do you believe
that this is not the first cry of the human heart! The proof is between
you and me. But we must look a little further, and then we shall see
that, if the first moment, the first instant of the fall, excites in
this woman a sort of transport of joy, of delirium, in some lines
farther on the deception makes itself manifest and, following the
expression of the author, she seems humiliated in her own eyes.
Yes, deception, grief, and remorse come to her at the same time. The man
in whom she has confided, to whom she has given herself up, has only
made use of her for the moment, as he would a plaything; remorse and
regret now rend her heart. It has shocked you to hear this called the
disillusion of adultery; you would have preferred _pollution_ at the
hand of a writer who placed before you a woman who, not having
comprehended marriage, felt herself _polluted_ by contact with her
husband, and who, having sought her ideal elsewhere, found the
_disillusions_ of adultery. This word has shocked you; in the place of
_disillusions_, you would have wished _pollution_ of adultery. This
tribunal shall be the judge. As for me, if I had depicted the same
personage I would have said to her: Poor woman! if you believe that your
husband's kisses are monotonous and wearisome, if you have found only
platitudes--this word has been especially brought to our notice--the
platitudes of marriage--if you seem to see pollution in a union where
love does not preside, take care, for your dreams are an illusion, and
you will one day be cruelly deceived. But this man, gentlemen, who knows
how to speak strongly, makes use of the word pollution to express what
we would have called disillusion, and he has used the true word,
although vague to him who can bring to it no intelligence. I would have
liked better his not speaking so strongly, his not pronouncing the word
_pollution_, but rather averting the woman from deception, from
disillusion, and saying to her: Where you believe you will find love,
you will find only libertinism; where you think you will find happiness,
there is only bitterness. A husband who goes tranquilly about his
affairs, who kisses you, puts on his house cap and eats his soup with
you, is a prosaic husband revolting to you; you aspire to a man who will
love you, idolize you; poor child! that man will be a libertine who will
have taken you for a minute for the sake of playing with you. There will
be some illusion about it the first time, perhaps the second; you may
come back home joyous, singing the song of adultery. "I have a lover!"
but the third time you will not wish to go to him, for the disillusion
will have come. The man you have dreamed of will have lost all his
prestige; you will have found again in love the platitudes of marriage,
and this time with scorn, disdain, disgust and poignant remorse.
This, gentlemen, is what M. Flaubert has said, what he has painted, what
is in each line of his book; and this is what distinguishes his work
from all other works of the kind. Under his hand, the great
irregularities of society figure on each page, and adultery walks abroad
full of disgust and shame. He has brought into the common relations of
life the most powerful teaching that can be given to a young woman. And
Heaven knows that to those of our young women who do not find in lofty,
honest principle and stern religion enough to keep them steady in the
accomplishment of their duties as mothers, or who do not find it in that
resignation and practical science of life which bids us accommodate
ourselves to what we have, but who carry their dreams to the outside
(and the most honest, the most pure of our young women, in the prosaic
life of their households, are sometimes tormented by that which is going
on outside), a book like this would bring but one reflection. Of that
you may be sure. And this is what M. Flaubert has intended.
And notice carefully one thing: M. Flaubert is not the man who has
painted a charming adultery for you, in order to arrive later with the
_Deus ex machina_; no, you are carried too quickly on to the last
page. Adultery with him is only a series of torments, remorse and
regret; and then he arrives at the final, frightful expiation. It is
excessive. If M. Flaubert sins, it is through excess; and I will show
you presently what is meant by this. The expiation is not allowed to
wait, and it is that which makes the book eminently moral and useful. It
does not promise the young woman some beautiful years at the end of
which she can say: after this, one is willing to die. No! from the
second day there is bitterness and disillusion. The conclusion for
morality is found in each line of the book.
This book is written with a power of observation to which the Government
Attorney has rendered justice. And it is here that I would call your
attention to it, because if the accusation is without foundation, it
must fall. This book is written with a power truly remarkable for
observing the smallest details. An article in the _Artiste_, signed
Flaubert, has served as yet another text for the accusation. Let the
Government Attorney note, first that this article is foreign to the
indictment; then, that we will hold him innocent and moral in the eyes
of this tribunal on one condition, which is, that he will have the
goodness to read the entire article from the place of the cutting.
The most noticeable thing in M. Flaubert's book is what some accounts
have called a fidelity wholly Daguerreian in the reproduction of the
type of things, and in the intimate nature of the thought of the human
heart;--and this reproduction becomes more powerful still by the magic
of his style. Now notice, that if he had applied this fidelity only to
the scenes of degradation, you could say with reason: the author has
been pleased to paint the scenes of degradation with that power of
description which is peculiarly his own. From the first to the last page
of his book, he keeps close to all the facts in Emma's life, without any
kind of reserve, from her infancy in her father's house, to her
education in the convent, sparing nothing. And those of us who have read
the book from beginning to end can say--and this is a notable point
which should put him in a favorable light with you, not only bringing
him acquittal, but removing from him every kind of misunderstanding--that
when he comes to the difficult parts, precisely at the time of
degradation, in place of doing as some classic authors have done, (as
the Public Attorney knows full well, but whom he forgot when he wrote
his address) a few pages of whose writings I have with me here, (not to
read to you but for you to run through in Court--and I might quote a few
lines here presently), in place of doing as our great classic authors,
our great masters have done, who never hesitate at description when they
have come to the scene of a union of the senses between man and woman,
M. Flaubert contents himself with a word. All his descriptive power
disappears, because his thought is chaste; because where he might write
in his own manner and with the magic of his style, he feels that there
are some things that should not be described or even touched upon. The
Public Attorney finds that he has still said too much. When I have shown
him some men who, in great philosophical works, have delighted in
descriptions of these things, and when in the light of this fact I have
shown that this man, who possesses the descriptive faculty to so high a
degree and who, far from using it, desists and abstains from it, I shall
indeed have the right to ask why this accusation has been brought?
Nevertheless, gentlemen, just as he has described to us the pleasant
cradle of Emma's infancy, with its foliage, its rose-colored and white
flowers which gladdened her with their blossoms and their perfume, so he
has described her when she went out from there into other paths, into
paths where she found mire, where her feet became soiled from its
contact, when the mire rose higher than herself and--he need not have
told it! But that would be to suppress the book completely, and I am
going far enough to say would suppress its moral element under a pretext
of defending it; for if a fault cannot be shown, if it cannot be pointed
out, if in a picture of real life which aims to show, through thought,
peril, fall and punishment, you would debar painting such as this, it is
evident you would cut out of the book its whole purpose.
This book was not a matter of a few hours' amusement for my client. It
represents two or three years of incessant study. And now I am going to
tell you something more: M. Flaubert who, after so many years of labor,
so many of study, so many journeys, so many notes culled from authors he
had read,--and Heaven grant you may see the fountain-head from which he
has drawn, for this strange fact will take upon itself his
justification--M. Flaubert (and his lascivious colour)--you will find
impregnated wholly with Bossuet and Massillon. It is in the study of
these authors that we shall presently find him seeking, not to
plagiarize, but to reproduce in his descriptions the thoughts and
colours employed by them. And can you believe, after all that, having
done this work with so much love for it, and with a decided purpose,
that, full of confidence in himself, and after so much study and
meditation, he would wish to throw himself immediately into the arena?
He would have done it, no doubt, had he been an unknown man, if his name
had belonged to himself in sole ownership, had he believed himself able
to dispose of it and use it as it seemed good to him; but, I repeat, he
is one of those upon whom rests the obligation of rank. His name is
Flaubert, he is the second son of M. Flaubert, and he has desired to
make a place for himself in literature, profoundly respecting the moral
and religious phases of it,--not through the notoriety of a lawsuit, for
such a purpose could not enter his thoughts--but through personal
dignity, not wishing his name to be at the head of a publication that
did not seem to some persons and to those in whom he had faith, worthy
of being published. M. Flaubert read in fragments, and even in
totality, to friends holding high places in the world of letters, the
pages which he hoped some day to print, and I assure you that not one of
them has been offended by what has just now excited such lively severity
on the part of the Government Attorney. No one even thought of it. They
simply examined and studied the literary value of the book. As to the
moral purpose, it is so evident, so written in every line in terms so
unequivocal that there was no need of raising the question.
Reassured upon the value of the book, encouraged, furthermore, by the
most eminent men of the press, M. Flaubert thought only of printing it
and giving it to the public. I repeat: everyone was unanimous in
rendering homage to its literary merit, to its style, and at the same
time to the excellent thought that pervaded it, from the first line to
the last. And when this action was brought it was not he alone who was
surprised and profoundly troubled, but, permit me to say, we, who cannot
understand the action, and I myself most of all, who had read the book
with a very lively interest as soon as it was published. But we are his
intimate friends. Heaven knows that there are some shades of meaning
that might escape us in our easy-going habits which never could escape
women of great intelligence, of great purity and unquestioned
chastity. These are not names which can be pronounced in this audience,
but if I could tell you what has been said to Flaubert, what has been
said to me, even, by mothers of families who have read this book, if I
could tell you their astonishment, after receiving from that reading an
impression so good that they believed they should thank the author for
it, if I could tell you their astonishment, their grief, when they
learned that this book was thought to oppose public morals and religious
faith, the faith of their whole life, God knows there would be in the
sum of this appreciation sufficient to fortify me, had I need of being
fortified for this combat with the Public Attorney.
However, in the midst of all the appreciative voices of contemporaneous
literature there is one which I wish to mention to you. There is one who
is not only respected by reason of a grand and beautiful character, who,
in the midst of adversity, of suffering even, has struggled courageously
each day; who is not only great by virtue of many deeds useless to
recall here, but great through his literary works which must be recalled
because here he is an authority; great especially through the purity
which exists in all his works, through the chastity of all his writings:
Lamartine did not know my client; he did not know that he
existed. Lamartine, at his home in the country, read _Madame Bovary_ in
each number of the _Revue de Paris_, and Lamartine found there such
power that it recurred to him again and again, as I am going to tell
After some days, Lamartine returned to Paris, and the next day informed
himself where M. Gustave Flaubert lived. He sent to the _Revue_ to learn
where M. Gustave Flaubert lived, who had published in the magazine some
articles under the title of _Madame Bovary_. He then directed his
secretary to go and present his compliments to M. Flaubert, to express
for him the satisfaction he had found in reading his book, and also his
desire to see the new author who revealed himself in an essay of that
My client went to Lamartine's house; and he found in him not only a man
who encouraged him, but who said to him:
"You have made the best book I have read in twenty years."
In a word, his praise was such that, in his modesty, my client scarcely
liked to repeat it to me. Lamartine proved to him that he had read each
number, proving it most graciously by repeating entire pages from
them. Lamartine only added:
"While I have read even to the last page without reserve, I did blame
the last pages. You have hurt me, you have literally made me suffer! The
punishment is beyond all proportion to the crime; you have created a
pitiably frightful death! Assuredly the woman who defiles the marriage
bed should expect punishment, but this is horrible; it is a punishment
such as I have never seen. You have gone too far; you have done mischief
to my nerves. That power of description which you have applied to the
last moment of death has left upon me an indelible suffering!"
And when Gustave Flaubert said to him:
"But, Monsieur de Lamartine, do you know that I have been indicted and
summoned to a court of correction for an offense against public morals
and religion for having made a book like that?"
"I believe that I have been all my life a man who, in literary works as
well as others, comprehends fully what makes for public and religious
morals; my dear child, it is not possible to find in France a tribunal
that will convict you."
This is what passed between Lamartine and Flaubert yesterday, and I have
the right to say to you that this approval is among those which are
worthy to be well weighed.
This well understood, let us see how my conscience could tell me that
_Madame Bovary_ was a good book, a good deed. And I ask your permission
to add that I do not take to these things easily, this facility is not
my habit. Some literary works I take up which, although emanating from
our great writers, do not remain two minutes before my eyes. I will pass
to you in the council chamber some lines that I took no delight in
reading, and I will ask your permission to say to you that when I came
to the end of M. Flaubert's work, I was convinced that a cutting made by
the _Revue de Paris_ was the cause of all this. I shall ask you further
to add my appreciation to this highest and most distinguished
appreciation which I am about to mention.
Here, gentlemen, is a portfolio filled with the opinions of all the
literary men of our time upon the work with which we are engaged, among
whom are some of the most distinguished, expressing their astonishment
upon reading this new work, at once so moral and so useful!
Now, how has it come about that a work like this can incur a process of
law? If you will permit me, I will tell you. The _Revue de Paris_, whose
reading committee had read the work in its entirety, for the manuscript
was sent long before it was published, evidently found nothing to
criticise. When it came time to print the copy of December 1st, 1856,
one of the directors of the _Revue_ became affrighted at the scene in
the cab. He said: "This is not conventional, we must suppress it."
Flaubert was offended by the suppression. He was not willing that it
should be made unless a note to that effect were placed at the bottom of
the page. It was he who exacted the note. It is he who, on account of
his self-respect as an author, neither wishing to have his work
mutilated nor, on the other hand wishing to make trouble for the
_Revue_, said: "You may suppress it if it seems best to you, but you
will state that you have suppressed something." And they agreed upon
the following note:
"The directors have seen the necessity of suppressing a passage here
which did not seem fitting to the _Revue de Paris_; we give notice of it
to the author."
Here is the suppressed passage which I am going to read to you. We have
only a proof, which we had great difficulty in procuring. The first part
has not a single correction; one word is corrected in the second part.
"'Where to, sir?' asked the coachman.
"'Where you like,' said Leon, forcing Emma into the cab.
"And the lumbering machine set out. It went down the Rue Grand-Pont,
crossed the Place des Arts, the Quai Napoleon, the Pont Neuf, and
stopped short before the statue of Pierre Corneille.
"'Go on,' cried a voice that came from within.
"The cab went on again, and as soon as it reached the Carrefour
Lafayette, set off down-hill, and entered the station at a gallop.
"'No, straight on!' cried the same voice.
"The cab came out by the gate, and soon having reached the Cours,
trotted quietly beneath the elm-trees. The coachman wiped his brow, put
his leather hat between his knees, and drove his carriage beyond the
side alley by the meadow to the margin of the waters.
"It went along by the river, along the towing-path paved with sharp
pebbles, and for a long while in the direction of Oyssel, beyond the
"But suddenly it turned with a dash across Quatre-mares, Sotteville, La
Grande-Chaussee, the Rue d'Elbeuf, and made its third halt in front of
the Jardin des Plantes.
"'Get on, will you?' cried the voice more furiously.
"And at once resuming its course, it passed by Saint-Sever, by the Quai
des Curandiers, the Quai aux Meules, once more over the bridge, by the
Place du Champ de Mars, and behind the hospital gardens, where old men
in black coats were walking in the sun along the terrace all green with
ivy. It went up the Boulevard Bouvreuil, along the Boulevard Cauchoise,
then the whole of Mont-Riboudet to the Deville hills.
"It came back; and then, without any fixed plan or direction, wandered
about at hazard. The cab was seen at Saint-Pol, at Lescure, at Mont
Gargan, at La Rouge-Marc and Place du Gaillardbois; in the Rue
Maladrerie, Rue Dinanderie, before Saint-Romain, Saint-Vivien,
Saint-Maclou, Saint-Nicaise--in front of the Customs, at the 'Vieille
Tour,' the 'Trois Pipes,' and the Monumental Cemetery. From time to
time, the coachman on his box cast despairing eyes at the
public-houses. He could not understand what furious desire for
locomotion urged these individuals never to wish to stop. He tried to
now and then, and at once exclamations of anger burst forth behind
him. Then he lashed his perspiring jades afresh, but indifferent to
their jolting, running up against things here and there, not caring if
he did, demoralised, and almost weeping with thirst, fatigue, and
"And on the harbour in the midst of the drays and casks and in the
streets at the corners, the good folk opened large wonder-stricken eyes
at this sight, so extraordinary in the provinces, a cab with blinds
drawn, and which appeared thus constantly shut more closely than a tomb,
and tossing about like a vessel.
"Once, in the middle of the day, in the open country, just as the sun
beat most fiercely against the old plated lanterns, a bared hand passed
beneath the small blinds of yellow canvas, and threw out some scraps of
paper that scattered in the wind, and farther off alighted like white
butterflies on a field of red clover all in bloom.
"At about six o'clock, the carriage stopped in a back street of the
Beauvoisine Quarter, and a woman got out, who walked with her veil down,
and without turning her head.
"On reaching the inn, Madame Bovary was surprised not to see the
diligence. Hivert, who had waited for her fifty-three minutes, had at
"Nothing, however, could prevent her setting out; she had promised to
return that evening. Moreover, Charles expected her, and in her heart
she felt already that cowardly docility that is for some women at once
the chastisement and atonement of adultery."
M. Flaubert calls my attention to the fact that the Public Attorney
condemned this last clause.
THE GOVERNMENT ATTORNEY:
No, I have pointed it out.
It is certain that if he had made a reproach it would have fallen before
these words: "at once the chastisement and atonement of adultery."
Furthermore, that could be made a matter of reproach with as much
foundation as the other quotations, for in all that you have condemned
there is no point that can be seriously held.
Now, gentlemen, this kind of fantastic journey having displeased the
editors of the _Revue_, it was suppressed. This was certainly excess of
reserve on the part of the _Revue_; and it is very certain that it is
not an excess of reserve which could furnish material for a lawsuit. You
shall see now what has furnished the material. What is not seen, what
has been suppressed, comes thus to appear a very strange thing. People
imagine many things, and often those which do not exist, as you have
seen from the reading of the original passage. Heavens! Do you know what
they imagined? Probably that there was in the suppressed passage
something analogous to that which you will have the goodness to read in
one of the most marvellous romances from the pen of an honorable member
of the French Academy, M. Merimee.
M. Merimee, in a romance entitled _The Double Mistake_, describes a
scene which took place in a postchaise. It is not the locality where the
carriage is that is of importance, it is, as here, in the detail of what
is done in the interior. I do not wish to abuse the audience, and will
pass the book to the Public Attorney and to the court. If we had
written a half, or a quarter part of what M. Merimee wrote, I should
find some embarrassment in the task that has been given me, or rather I
should have to modify it; in place of saying what I have said, and what
I affirm, that M. Flaubert has written a good book, an honest book,
useful and moral, I should say: literature has its rights; M. Merimee
has made a very remarkable literary work, and it is not necessary to
show ourselves too particular about details when the whole is
irreproachable. I take my stand there; I should acquit, and you will
acquit. Great Heavens! It is not by omission that an author can sin in
a matter of this kind. And besides, you will have the detail of that
which took place in the cab. But as my client himself was content to
make a journey, revealing what passed in the interior of the carriage
only by a bare hand which appeared under the yellow silk curtains and
threw out bits of torn paper which were scattered by the wind and
settled down afar off like white butterflies upon a field of red clover
all in flower, as my client was content with that, no one knew anything
about it and everyone supposed--from the suppression itself--that he had
at least said as much as the member of the French Academy. You have
seen that there was nothing in it.
Ah, well! this unfortunate suppression has caused the lawsuit! That is
to say, when, in the offices where they have charge, and with infinite
reason, of inspecting all writings which could offend public morals,
they saw this cut, they took warning. I am obliged to declare, and,
gentlemen of the _Revue_, allow me to state that they started the work
of their scissors two words too far off; they should have begun before
they got into the cab. To cut after that was more difficult. This
cutting was indeed most unfortunate; but if you have committed the
error, gentlemen of the _Revue_, assuredly you will atone for it to-day.
They said in the inspecting office: Take heed of what is to follow, and
when the following number appeared, they made war on it to the syllable.
The people in the office are not obliged to read all; and when they saw
that some one had written about a woman removing all her clothing, they
were startled enough without going further. It is true that, differing
from our great masters, Flaubert has not taken the trouble to describe
the alabaster of her bare arms, throat, etc. He has not said, as did a
poet whom we love:
I see her alabaster limbs ardent and pure,
Smooth as ebony, like the lily, coral, roses, veins of azure,
Such indeed, as in former times thou showedst to me
Of nudity embellished and adorned;
When nights slipped by, and pillows soft
Saw thee from my kisses waking and sleeping oft.
He has said nothing like this of Andre Chenier's. But he finally said:
"She abandoned herself.... Her clothing fell from her."
She abandoned herself! Why not? Is all description to be prohibited?
But when one makes an incriminating charge, he should read the whole,
and the Government Attorney has not read the whole. The passage he makes
the charge against does not stop where he stopped; it has a corrective,
and here it is:
"Nevertheless, there was upon this brow covered with cold drops, upon
these stammering lips, in these bewildered eyes, in the clasp of these
arms something extreme, something vague and lugubrious which seemed to
Leon to glide between them in some subtle fashion, as if to separate
In the office they did not read that. The Government Attorney just now
did not notice it. He only saw this:
"Then, with a single gesture, she allowed all her clothes to fall from
And then he cries out: An outrage to public morals! Surely, it is too
easy to accuse with a system like this. God forbid that the authors of
dictionaries fall under the Government Attorney's hand! Who could escape
condemnation if, by means of cutting, not of phrases, but of words, one
is to be informed of a list he has made that might offend morals or
My client's first thought, which unfortunately met with resistance, was
this: "There is only one thing to do: print the book immediately, not
with parts cut out, but the work entire as it left my hands, restoring
to it the scene in the cab." I was of his opinion, believing that the
best defense of my client would be a complete imprint of the work with
special indication of some points to which we would beg to draw the
Court's attention. I myself gave the title to this publication: _Memoir
of Gustave Flaubert for the prevention of outrage to religious morals
brought against him_. I had written on it with my hand: Civil Court,
Sixth Chamber, with the signature of the President and the Public
Minister. There was a preface in which was written:
"They have indicted me with phrases taken here and there from my book; I
can only defend myself with the whole book."
To ask the judges to read an entire romance would be asking much; but we
are before judges who love truth, who desire the truth, and who to learn
it would not shrink from any fatigue. We are before judges who desire
justice and desire it energetically, and who will read, without any kind
of hesitation, what we beg them to read. I said to M. Flaubert: "Send
this immediately to the printers, and put my name at the bottom beside
yours: SENARD, _Counsel_." They had begun the printing; arrangements
were made for a hundred copies for our own use; the work went on with
extreme rapidity, they were working day and night on it, when the order
came to us to discontinue the printing, not of a book, but of a pamphlet
in which was the incriminated work together with explanatory notes. We
appealed to the office of the Attorney-General--who informed us that the
prohibition was absolute and could not be removed.
Well, so be it! We should have published the book with our notes and
observation's; but now I ask you, gentlemen, if your first reading has
left you in doubt, to give it a second reading. You will willingly do
this, as you desire the truth; and you could not be among those who,
when two lines of a man's writing is brought to them, are sure to make
it fit any condition that may be. You do not wish a man to be judged
upon a few cuttings more or less skilfully made. You would not allow
that; you would not deprive him of the ordinary means of defense. Well,
you have the book, and although it may be less easy than you might wish,
you will make your own divisions, observations, and meanings, because
you desire the truth, because truth is necessary for the basis of your
judgment, and truth will come from a serious examination of the book.
However, I cannot stop here. The Public Minister has attacked the book,
and it is necessary for me to defend it, to complete the quotations he
has made, and show the nothingness of the accusation against each
incriminated passage; that will be all my defense.
I shall not attempt, assuredly, to place myself in opposition to the
exalted, animated, pathetic appreciation with which the Public Attorney
has surrounded all that he said, by striving for appreciation of the
same kind; the defense would have no right to make use of such a manner
of procedure; it must content itself with citing the text, such as it
And in the first place, I declare that nothing is more false than what
has just been said about lascivious colour. Lascivious colour! Where can
you find it? My client has depicted in _Madame Bovary_ what sort of
woman? My God! it is sad to say, and yet it is true, a young girl,
born, as they nearly all are, honest; at least the greater number are
honest, but very fragile, when education, instead of fortifying them,
softens them and turns them into bad paths. He has depicted a young
girl. Is she of perverse nature? No, but of an impressionable nature,
susceptible of exaltation.
The Government Attorney has said: "This young girl has constantly been
presented in a lascivious light." No! she is represented as born in the
country, born on a farm, where she is occupied with all her father's
labor, and where no kind of lasciviousness can find a way to her mind or
heart. Then she is represented, in the place of following the destiny
which would be hers naturally, instead of being brought up for the farm
or in some analogous place in which she ought to live, she is
represented as under the short-sighted authority of a father who thinks
he must have his daughter educated in a convent, this girl born on a
farm, who should marry a farmer, or a man of the country. She is then
taken to a convent, outside her sphere. As there is nothing that does
not have weight in the Public Attorney's speech, we must leave nothing
without a response. Ah! you spoke of her little sins, and in quoting
from the first number, you said:
"When she went to confession, she invented little sins, in order that
she might stay there longer, kneeling in the shadow ... beneath the
whisperings of the priest." You have gravely deceived yourself in regard
to my client's meaning. He has not committed the fault with which you
reproach him; the error is wholly on your side, in the first place upon
the age of the girl. As she entered the convent at thirteen, it is
evident that she must have been fourteen when she went to
confession. She was not then a child of ten years, as it has pleased you
to say, and you were materially deceived on that point. But I am not so
sure of the unlikelihood of a child of ten years liking to remain at the
confessional "under the whisperings of the priest."
All that I desire is that you read the lines which precede, and that is
not easy, I agree. And here appears the inconvenience of not having a
pamphlet memoir at hand; with such an aid, we should not have to search
through six volumes!
I have called your attention to this passage in order to recall it to
_Madame Bovary_ and her true character. Will you permit me to say, what
seems to me very important, that M. Flaubert has fully comprehended this
point and put it in bold relief. There is a kind of religion which is
generally spoken of to young girls, which is the worst of all
religion. There may be in this regard a difference of opinion. As for
me, I declare clearly that I know nothing more beautiful, or useful, or
necessary to sustain, not only women in the ways of life but men
themselves, who sometimes have the most difficult trials to overcome, I
know nothing so useful, so necessary, as the religious sentiment, but a
serious religious sentiment, and permit me to add, severe.
I wish my children to believe in one God, not a God in the abstractness
of pantheism, but in a Supreme Being with whom they have relationship,
to whom they are accustomed to pray, and who at once awes and fortifies
them. This thought, you see, it is your belief as well as mine, is our
strength in evil days, is our strength against what we call the world;
the refuge; or better still, the strength of the weak. It is this
thought which gives women that stability which makes them resigned to a
thousand little things in life, which makes them carry all their
suffering to God, and ask of Him grace to fulfill their duty. That
religion, gentlemen, is the Christian religion, and it is that which
establishes a relationship between God and man. Christianity, in placing
a sort of intermediary power between God and ourselves, renders God more
accessible, and communication with Him easier. That the Mother of Him
who has made Himself the Saviour should receive the prayers of women,
cannot affect, so far as I can see, purity, religious sanctity, or
religious sentiment itself. But here is where the change begins. In
order to accommodate a religion to all natures, all sorts of petty,
miserable, paltry things are introduced. The pomp of the ceremonies,
instead of being a true pomp which lays hold on the soul, often
degenerates into a commerce in relics, medals, of little saints and
Virgins. To what, gentlemen, do the minds of children, curious, ardent,
and tender, lend themselves, especially the minds of young girls? To all
these enfeebled, attenuated, miserable images of the religious
spirit. They then take upon themselves little religious duties to put in
practice, little devotions of tenderness, of love, and in the place of
having in their soul the sentiment of God, the sentiment of duty, they
abandon themselves to reveries, to little devices, to little
devotions. And then comes the poesy, and then comes, it is very
necessary to say it, a thousand thoughts of charity, of tenderness, of
mystic love, a thousand forms which deceive young girls and sensualize
religion. These poor children, naturally credulous and weak, take to all
this poesy and reverie instead of attaching themselves to something more
reasonable and severe. Whence it happens that you have very many strong
devotees among women who are not religious at all. And when the wind
blows them from the path where they ought to walk, in place of finding
strength to combat it, they find only a kind of sensuality which
Ah! you have accused me of having confounded the religious element with
sensualism, in the picture of modern society! Accuse rather the society
in the midst of which we live, but do not accuse the man who cries with
Bossuet: "Awake and be on thy guard against peril!" And say to the
fathers of families: Take care! These are not good customs for your
daughters; there is in all these mixtures of mysticism something which
sensualises religion; say that, and you will speak the truth. It is for
this that you accuse Flaubert; it is for this that I exalt his conduct.
Yes, he has given very good warning of the whole family of dangers
arising from exaltation among young persons, who take upon themselves
petty devotions instead of attaching themselves to a strong and severe
religion which would sustain them in a day of weakness. And now you
shall see whence comes the invention of the little sins "under the
whisperings of the priest." Read page 30:
"She had read 'Paul and Virginia,' and she had dreamed of the little
bamboo-house, the nigger Domingo, the dog Fidele, but above all the
sweet friendship of some dear little brother, who seeks red fruit for
you on trees taller than steeples, or who runs barefoot over the sand,
bringing you a bird's nest."
Is this lascivious, gentlemen? Let us continue.
THE GOVERNMENT ATTORNEY:
I did not say that passage was lascivious.
I ask your pardon, but it is precisely in this passage that you found a
lascivious phrase, and it was only by isolating it from what preceded
and what followed that you could make it seem lascivious.
"Instead of attending to mass, she looked at the pious vignettes with
their azure borders in her book, and she loved the sick lamb, the sacred
heart pierced with sharp arrows, or the poor Jesus sinking beneath the
cross he carries. She tried, by way of mortification, to eat nothing a
whole day. She puzzled her head to find some vow to fulfill."
Do not forget this; when one invents little sins to confess and seeks
some vow to fulfill, as you will find in the preceding line, evidently
one has got ideas that are a little false from somewhere. And now I ask
you if I have to discuss your passage! I continue:
"In the evening, before prayers, there was some religious reading in the
study. On week-nights it was some abstract of sacred history or the
Lectures of the Abbe Frayssinous, and on Sundays passages from the
'Genie du Christianism,' as a recreation. How she listened at first to
the sonorous lamentations of its romantic melancholies re-echoing
through the world and eternity! If her childhood had been spent in the
shop-parlor of some business quarter, she might perhaps have opened her
heart to those lyrical invasions of Nature, which usually come to us
only through translation in books. But she knew the country too well;
she knew the lowing of cattle, the milking, the plow. Accustomed to calm
aspects of life, she turned, on the contrary, to those of
excitement. She loved the sea only for the sake of its storms, and the
green fields only when broken up by ruins. She wished to get some
personal profit out of things, and she rejected as useless all that did
not contribute to the immediate desire of her heart, being of a
temperament, more sentimental than artistic, looking for emotions not
You shall see with what delicate precaution the author has introduced a
saintly old maid, and how, with a purport of teaching religion, there is
allowed to slip into the convent a new element, through the introduction
of romance brought in by a stranger. Do not forget this when the subject
of religious morals is under consideration.
"At the convent there was an old maid who came for a week each month to
mend the linen. Patronized by the clergy, because she belonged to an
ancient family of noblemen ruined by the Revolution, she dined in the
refectory at the table of the good sisters, and after the meal had a bit
of chat with them before going back to her work. The girls often slipped
out from the study to go and see her. She knew by heart the love-songs
of the last century, and sang them in a low voice as she stitched
away. She told stories, gave them news, went errands in the town, and on
the sly lent the big girls some novel, that she always carried in the
pockets of her apron, and of which the good lady herself swallowed long
chapters in the intervals of her work."
This is nothing but marvellous, speaking from a literary point of view,
and absolution can but be granted a man who has written these admirable
passages as a warning against all perils of education of this kind, as
an indication to young women of the stumbling-blocks in the life in
which they will be placed. Let us continue:
"They were all love, lovers, sweet-hearts, persecuted ladies fainting in
lonely pavilions, postilions killed at every stage, horses ridden to
death on every page, sombre forests, heartaches, vows, sobs, tears and
kisses, little skiffs by moonlight, nightingales in shady groves,
'gentlemen' brave as lions, gentle as lambs, virtuous as no one ever
was, always well dressed, and weeping like fountains. For six months,
then, Emma, at fifteen years of age, made her hands dirty with books
from old lending libraries. With Walter Scott, later, she fell in love
with historical events, dreamed of old chests, guardrooms and
minstrels. She would have liked to live in some old manor-house, like
those long-waisted chatelaines who, in the shade of pointed arches,
spent their days leaning on the stone, chin in hand, watching a cavalier
with white plume galloping on his black horse from the distant
fields. At this time, she had a cult for Mary Stuart and enthusiastic
veneration for illustrious or unhappy women. Joan of Arc, Heloise, Agnes
Sorel, the beautiful Ferronniere, and Clemence Isaure stood out to her
like comets in the dark immensity of heaven, where also were seen, lost
in shadow, and all unconnected, St. Louis with his oak, the dying
Bayard, some cruelties of Louis XI., a little of St. Bartholomew's, the
plume of the Bearnais, and always the remembrance of the plates painted
in honor of Louis XIV.
"In the music-class, in the ballads she sang, there was nothing but
little angels with golden wings, madonnas, lagunes, gondoliers;--mild
compositions that allowed her to catch a glimpse athwart the obscurity
of style and the weakness of the music of the attractive phantasmagoria
of sentimental realities."
Now, you have not remembered this, when that poor country girl, having
returned to the farm and married a village physician, is invited to an
evening party at the Castle, to which you have sought to call the
attention of the judges to show that there was something lascivious in a
waltz she took part in. You have not called to mind this education when
this poor woman is charmed that an invitation comes to take her from her
husband's common fireside and lead her to the Castle, where she sees
fine gentlemen, beautiful ladies, and the old duke, who, they said, had
had great fortune at Court! The Government Attorney has shown some fine
emotions _a propos_ of Queen Marie-Antoinette! Assuredly there is not
one of us who would not share his thought; like him, we have trembled at
the name of this victim of the Revolution, but it is not with
Marie-Antoinette that we are concerned here, it is with the Castle
There was an old duke there who had had, they said, relations with the
queen, and towards whom all eyes were turned. And when this young woman
found herself thus transported into the midst of the world, thus
realizing all the fantastic dreams of her youth, can you wonder at the
intoxication of it? And you accuse her of being lascivious! Better
accuse the waltz itself; that dance of our great modern balls where,
said a late author writing about it, the woman "leans her head upon the
shoulder of her partner whose limbs embrace her." You find Madame Bovary
lascivious in Flaubert's description, but there is not a man, and I will
not except you, who, having taken part in a ball like that and seen that
sort of waltz, has not had in mind the wish that his wife or his
daughter refrain from this pleasure which has in it so much of the
untamed. If, counting upon the chastity which enveloped this young
woman, we allow her sometimes to give herself up to this pleasure which
the world sanctions, it is necessary to count very much upon that
envelope of chastity and, however much one may count upon it, it is not
unheard of to express the impressions which M. Flaubert has expressed in
the name of morals and chastity.
Here she is at the Castle Vaubyessard, observed by the old duke, noticed
favorably by all, and you cry out: What details! What does it mean?
Details are everywhere, although we cite but a single passage.
"Madame Bovary noticed that many ladies had not put their gloves in
"But at the upper end of the table, alone among all those women, bent
over his full plate, with his napkin tied round his neck like a child,
an old man sat eating, letting drops of gravy drip from his mouth. His
eyes were bloodshot, and he wore a little queue tied with a black
ribbon. He was the Marquis's father-in-law, the old Duke de Laverdiere,
once on a time favorite of the Count d'Artois, in the days of the
Vaudreuil hunting-parties at the Marquis de Conflans', and had been, it
was said, the lover of Queen Mari-Antoinette between Monsieur de Coigny
and Monsieur de Lauzun."
Defend the queen, defend her especially before the scaffold, say that
because of her title she had the right of respect, but suppress your
accusations when one contents himself with saying that he had been, it
was said, the lover of the queen. Can that be so serious that you
reproach us with having insulted the memory of that unfortunate woman?
"He had lived a life of noisy debauch, full of duels, bets, elopements;
he had squandered his fortune and frightened all his family. A servant
behind his chair named aloud to him in his ear the dishes that he
pointed to, stammering, and constantly Emma's eyes turned involuntarily
to this old man with hanging lips, as to something extraordinary. He had
lived at court and slept in the bed of queens!
"Iced champagne was poured out. Emma shivered all over as she felt it
cold in her mouth. She had never seen pomegranates nor tasted
You see that these descriptions are charming, incontestably, and that it
is not difficult to take a line here and there for the purpose of
creating a kind of colour, against which my conscience protests. It is
not a lascivious colour, it is only lifelike; it is the literary element
and at the same time the moral element.
Here we have a young girl, whose education you are acquainted with,
become a woman. The Government Attorney has asked: Did she even try to
love her husband? He has not read the book; if he had read it, he would
not have made the objection.
We have, gentlemen, this poor woman dreaming at first. On page 34 you
will find her dreams. And there is something more here, something of
which the Government Attorney did not speak, and which I must tell you,
and these are her impressions when her mother died; you will see if they
are lascivious soon enough! Have the goodness to turn to page 33 and
"When her mother died she cried much the first few days. She had a
funeral picture made with the hair of the deceased, and, in a letter
sent to the Bertaux full of sad reflections on life, she asked to be
buried some day in the same grave. The good man thought she must be ill,
and came to see her. Emma was secretly pleased that she had reached at a
first attempt the rare ideal of pale lives, never attained by mediocre
hearts. She let herself glide along with Lamartine meanderings, listened
to harps on lakes, to all the songs of dying swans, to the falling of
the leaves, the pure virgins ascending to heaven, and the voice of the
Eternal discoursing down the valleys. She wearied of it, would not
confess it, continued from habit, and at last was surprised to feel
herself soothed, and with no more sadness at heart than wrinkles on her
I wish to make answer to the Government Attorney's reproach that she
made no effort to love her husband.
THE GOVERNMENT ATTORNEY:
I did not reproach her for that, I said that she did not succeed in
If I have been mistaken, if you made no reproach, that is the best
response that could be given. I believed that I understood you to make
one; let us see how I may be deceived. Moreover, here is what I read at
the end of page 36:
"And yet, in accord with theories she believed right, she desired to
make herself in love with him. By moonlight in the garden she recited
all the passionate rhymes she knew by heart, and, sighing, sang to him
many melancholy adagios; but she found herself as calm after this as
before, and Charles seemed no more amorous and no more moved.
"When she had thus for a while struck the flint on her heart without
getting a spark, incapable, moreover, of understanding what she did not
experience as of believing anything that did not present itself in
conventional forms, she persuaded herself without difficulty that
Charles's passion was nothing very exorbitant. His outbursts became
regular; he embraced her at certain fixed times. It was one habit among
other habits, and, like a dessert, looked forward to after the monotony
On page 37 we find a group of similar things. Now, here is where the
peril begins. You know how she has been brought up; and I beg you not to
forget this for an instant.
There is not a man who, having read this, would not say that M. Flaubert
is not only a great artist but a man of heart, for having in the last
six pages turned all the horror and scorn upon the woman and all the
interest towards the husband. He is a great artist, as has been said,
because he has left the husband as he was, he has not transformed him,
and to the end he is the same good man, commonplace, mediocre, full of
the duties of his profession, loving his wife well, but destitute of
education or elevation of thought. He is the same at the death-bed of
his wife. And nevertheless, there is not an individual to whom the
memory returns with more interest.
Why? Because he has kept to the end his simplicity and uprightness of
heart; because to the end he has fulfilled his duty while his wife was
led astray. His death is as beautiful and as touching as the death of
his wife is hideous. On the dead body of the woman the author has shown
the spots made by the vomiting of poison; they soil the white shroud in
which she goes to her burial, and he has made her, as he desired, an
object of disgust; but there is a man there who is sublime--the husband
standing beside the grave. There is a man who is grand, sublime, whose
death is admirable--the husband, who, finding himself broken-hearted by
the death of his wife, sees afterwards all the illusions of the heart
that remained to him embraced in the thought of his wife in the tomb.
Keep that, I beg you, in your remembrance. The author has gone beyond
what was necessary--as Lamartine has said--in rendering the death of the
woman hideous and her punishment most terrible. The author has
concentrated all the interest upon the man who did not deviate from the
line of duty, who preserved his mediocre character, to be sure (for the
author could not change his character) but who preserved also all his
generosity of heart, while upon the wife who deceived him, ruined him,
gave him into the hands of usurers, put into circulation forged notes
and finally arrived at suicide, was heaped all the accumulated
horrors. We shall see that it is natural--the death of this woman who,
if she had not come to her end by poison, would have been broken by the
excess of misfortune with which she was surrounded. The author has seen
this. His book would not be read if he had done otherwise, if, in order
to show where an education as perilous as that of Madame Bovary can
lead, he had not been prodigal with the fascinating images and the
powerful tableaux for which he is reproached.
M. Flaubert constantly sets forth the superiority of the husband over
the wife, and what superiority, if you please? that of simple duty
fulfilled, while the wife was straying from hers. Here she is, fixed by
the bent of this bad education; here she is, gone out after the scene of
the ball, with the young boy, Leon, as inexperienced as herself. She
coquets with him but does not dare to go further; nothing happens. Then
comes Rodolphe who takes the woman to himself. After looking at her for
a moment, he said: This woman is all right. She will be easy prey,
because she is light-minded and inexperienced. As to the fall, will you
re-read pages 42, 43 and 44. I have only a word to say about this scene
and that is: there are no details, no descriptions, no image that can
trouble the senses; a single word indicates the fall: "She abandoned
herself." I pray you to have the goodness to read again the details of
the fall of Clarissa Harlowe, which I have not heard decried as a bad
book. M. Flaubert has substituted Rodolphe for Lovelace, and Emma for
Clarissa. If you will compare the two authors and the two books you will
appreciate the situation.
But I will return here to the indignation of the Government Attorney.
He is shocked that remorse does not immediately follow the fall, and
that in the place of expressing bitterness, she said with satisfaction:
"I have a lover!" But the author would not be true, if he made the
enchanting draught seem bitter while it still touched the lips. He who
wrote as the Attorney understands might be moral, but he would be saying
what is not in nature. No, it is not at the first moment of a fault
that the sentiment of fault is awakened; otherwise, it would not be
committed. No, it is not at the moment when she is under a delusion that
intoxicates her that a woman can be averted from this intoxication even
by the immensity of the fault she has committed. She feels only the
intoxication; she goes back to her home happy, sparkling, and singing in
her heart: "I have a lover!" But can this last long? You have read pages
424 and 425. On both pages, and if you please, to page 428, the
sentiment of disgust with her lover is not yet manifest; but she is
already under the impression of fear and uneasiness. She thinks, weighs
the question, and believes that she does not wish to abandon Rodolphe:
"Something stronger than herself forced her to him; so much so, that one
day, seeing her come unexpectedly he frowned as one put out.
"'What is the matter with you?' she said, 'Are you ill? Tell me!'
"At last he declared with a serious air that her visits were becoming
imprudent--that she was compromising herself.
"Gradually Rodolphe's fears took possession of her. At first, love had
intoxicated her, and she had thought of nothing beyond. But now that he
was indispensable to her life, she feared to lose anything of this, or
even that it should be disturbed. When she came back from his house, she
looked all about her, anxiously watching every form that passed in the
horizon, and every village window from which she could be seen. She
listened for steps, cries, the noise of the ploughs, and she stopped
short, white, and trembling more than the aspen leaves swaying
You see unmistakably that she was not deceived; she felt clearly that
there was something about it of which she had not dreamed. Let us take
pages 433 and 434 and you will be still further convinced:
"When the night was rainy, they took refuge in the consulting-room,
between the cart-shed and the stable. She lighted one of the kitchen
candles that she had hidden behind the books. Rodolphe settled down
there as if at home. The sight of the library, of the bureau, of the
whole apartment, in fine, excited his merriment, and he could not
refrain from making jokes about Charles which rather embarrassed Emma.
She would have liked to see him more serious and even on occasions more
dramatic; as, for example, when she thought she heard a noise of
approaching steps in the alley.
"'Some one is coming!' she said
"He blew out the light.
"'Have you your pistols?'
"'Why, to defend yourself,' replied Emma.
"'From your husband? Oh, poor devil!'"
And Rodolphe finished his phrase with a gesture which signified: I could
crush him with a fillip.
She was amazed at his bravery, although she felt that there was a sort
of indelicacy and naive grossness about it that was scandalizing.
"Rodolphe reflected a good deal on the affair of the pistols. If she had
spoken seriously, it was very ridiculous, he thought, even odious; for
he had no reason to hate the good Charles, not being what is called
devoured by jealousy; and on this subject Emma had treated him to a
lecture, which he did not think in the best taste.
"Besides, she was growing very sentimental. She had insisted on
exchanging miniatures; they had cut handfuls of hair, and now she was
asking for a ring--a real wedding-ring, in sign of an eternal union. She
often spoke to him of the evening chimes, of the voices of nature. Then
she talked to him of her mother--hers! and of his mother--his!
"Finally she wearied him."
Then, on page 453:
"He had no longer, as formerly, words so gentle that they made her cry,
nor passionate caresses that made her mad; so that their great love,
which engrossed her life, seemed to lessen beneath her like the water of
a stream absorbed into its channel, and she could see the bed of it. She
would not believe it; she redoubled in tenderness, and Rodolphe
concealed his indifference less and less.
"She did not know whether she regretted yielding to him, or whether, she
did not wish, on the contrary, to enjoy him the more. The humiliation of
feeling herself weak was turning to rancour, tempered by their
voluptuous pleasures. It was not affection; it was like a continual
seduction. He subjugated her; she almost feared him."
And you are afraid, Mr. Government Attorney, that young women might read
this! I am less frightened, less timid than you. On my own personal
account, I can admirably understand a father of a family saying to his
daughter: Young lady, if your heart, your conscience, if religious
sentiment and the voice of duty are not sufficient to make you walk in
the right path, look, my child, look well at the weariness, the
suffering, the grief and desolation attending the woman who seeks
happiness outside her home! This language would not wound you in the
mouth of a father, would it? M. Flaubert has said nothing but this; he
has made a painting most true, and most powerful, of what the woman who
dreams of finding happiness outside her house immediately discovers.
But let us go on and we shall come to all the adventures of the
disillusion. You show me the caresses of Leon on page 60. Alas! she
will soon pay the ransom of adultery, and that ransom you will find
terrible, in some pages farther on in the book you condemn. She sought
happiness in adultery, poor unfortunate one! And she found, besides the
disgust and fatigue that the monotony of marriage can bring to the woman
who does not walk in the path of duty, the disillusion and the scorn of
the man to whom she has given herself. Was any of this scorn lacking in
the book? Oh, no! and you cannot deny it, for the book is under your
eyes. Rodolphe, who has shown himself so vile, gives to her a last proof
of egoism and cowardice. She has said to him: "Take me! Carry me away!
I am stifling; I can no longer breathe in my husband's house, to which I
have brought shame and misfortune." He hesitates; she insists. Finally,
he promises, and the next day she receives a terrible letter under which
she falls crushed and annihilated. She is taken ill and is dying. The
number you are consulting shows you all the convulsions of a soul at war
with itself, which perhaps could be led back to duty by an excess of
suffering, but unfortunately she meets a boy with whom she had played
when she was inexperienced. This is the movement of the romance, and
then comes the expiation.
But the Government Attorney stops me and asks: Although it may be true
that the purpose of the book is good from one end to the other, could
you allow such obscene details as those that have been brought forward?
Very certainly I could not allow such details, but where have I allowed
them? Where are they? I now arrive at the passages most condemned. I
will say no more of the adventure in the cab. This Court has heard
enough with regard to that; I come to the passages that you have pointed
out as contrary to public morals and which form a certain number of
pages in the December number. And, in order to pull away all the
scaffolding of your accusation, there is only one thing to be done: to
restore what precedes and what follows your quotations, in a word, to
substitute the text complete as opposed to your cutting.
At the bottom of page 72, Leon, after making an agreement with Homais,
the chemist, goes to the Hotel de Boulogne; the chemist goes there to
"Emma was no longer there. She had just gone in a fit of anger. She
detested him now. This failing to keep their rendezvous seemed to her an
"Then, growing calmer, she at length discovered that she had no doubt
calumniated him. But the disparaging of those we love always alienates
us from them to some extent. We must not touch our idols; the gilt
sticks to our fingers."
Great heavens! And it is for such lines as I have been reading to you
that we are dragged before you. Listen now:
"They gradually came to talking more frequently of matters outside their
love, and in the letters that Emma wrote him she spoke of flowers,
verses, the moon and the stars, naive resources of a waning passion
striving to keep itself alive by all external aids. She was constantly
promising herself a profound felicity on her next journey. Then she
confessed to herself that she felt nothing extraordinary. This
disappointment quickly gave way to a new hope, and Emma returned to him
more inflamed, more eager than ever. She undressed brutally, tearing off
the thin laces of her corset that nestled around her hips like a gliding
snake. She went on tip-toe, barefooted, to see once more that the door
was closed; then, pale, serious, and without speaking, with one movement
she threw herself upon his breast with a long shudder." You have
stopped here, Mr. Attorney; permit me to continue:
"Yet there was upon that brow covered with cold drops, on those
quivering lips, in those wild eyes, in the strain of those arms,
something vague and dreary that seemed to Leon to glide between them
subtly as if to separate them."
You call this lascivious colour, you say that this gives a taste for
adultery, you say that these pages excite and arouse the senses,--that
they are lascivious pages! But death is in these pages! You did not
think of that, Mr. Attorney, and were simply frightened to find such
words as _corset, clothing which falls off_, etc.; and you attach
yourself to these three or four words, such as corset and falling
clothing. Do you wish me to show you that corsets can appear in a
classic book, a very classic book? I shall give myself the pleasure of
so doing, presently.
"She undressed herself ..." [ah! Mr. Government Attorney, how badly you
have understood this passage!] "she undressed hastily [poor thing],
tearing off the thin laces of her corset that nestled around her hips
like a gliding snake; then pale, serious, and without speaking, with one
movement she threw herself upon his breast with a long shudder.... There
was upon that brow covered with cold drops ... in the strain of those
arms something vague and dreary...."
We must ask here where the lascivious colour is? and where is the severe
colour? and ask if the senses of the young girl into whose hands this
book might fall, could be aroused, excited--as she might by reading a
classic of classics, which I shall cite presently, and which has been
reprinted a thousand times without any prosecution, public or royal,
following it. Is there anything analogous in what I am going to read
you? Is there not, on the contrary, a horror of vice that this
"something dreary glides in between them to separate them?" Let us
continue, I pray:
"He did not dare to question her; but, seeing her so skilled, she must
have passed, he thought, through every experience of suffering and of
pleasure. What had once charmed now frightened him a little. Besides,
he rebelled against his absorption, daily more marked by her
personality. He begrudged Emma this constant victory. He even strove
not to love her; then, when he heard the creaking of her boots, he
turned coward, like drunkards at the sight of strong drinks."
What is lascivious there?
And then, take the last paragraph:
"One day, when they had parted early and she was returning alone along
the boulevard, she saw the walls of her convent; then she sat down on a
form in the shade of the elm-trees. How calm that time had been! How she
longed for the ineffable sentiments of love that she had tried to figure
to herself out of books! The first month of her marriage, her rides in
the wood, the viscount that waltzed, and Lagardy singing, all repassed
before her eyes. And Leon suddenly appeared to her as far off as the
"'Yet I love him,' she said to herself."
Do not forget this, Mr. Attorney, when you judge the thought of the
author, when you wish to find absolutely lascivious colour where I can
only find an excellent book.
"She was not happy--she never had been. Whence came this insufficiency
of life--this instantaneous turning to decay of everything on which she
Is that lascivious?
"But if there were somewhere a being strong and beautiful, a valiant
nature, full at once of exaltation and refinement, a poet's heart in
angel's form, a lyre with sounding chords ringing out elegiac
epithalamia to heaven, why, perchance, should she not find him? Ah! how
impossible! Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it;
everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a
curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips
only the unattainable desire for a greater delight.
"A metallic clang droned through the air, and four strokes were heard
from the convent-clock. Four o'clock! And it seemed to her that she had
been there on that form an eternity. But an infinity of passions may be
contained in a minute, like a crowd in a small space."
It is not necessary to look at the end of the book to find what is in it
from one end to the other. I have read the incriminated passage without
adding a word, to defend a work which defends itself through itself. Let
us continue leading from this same incriminated passage, looking at it
from a moral point of view:
"Madame was in her room, which no one entered. She stayed there all day
long, torpid, half dressed, and from time to time burning Turkish
pastilles which she had bought at Rouen in an Algerian's shop. In order
not to have at night this sleeping man stretched at her side, by dint of
manoeuvering, she at least succeeded in banishing him to the second
floor, while she read till morning extravagant books, full of pictures
of orgies and thrilling situations. Often, seized with fear, she cried
out, and Charles hurried to her.
"'Oh, go away!' she would say.
"Or at other times, consumed more ardently than ever by that inner flame
to which adultery added fuel, panting, tremulous, all desire, she threw
open her window, breathed in the cold air, shook loose in the wind her
masses of hair, too heavy, and gazing upon the stars, longed for some
princely love. She thought of him, of Leon. She would then have given
anything for a single one of those meetings that surfeited her.
"Those were her gala days. She wished them to be sumptuous, and when he
alone could not pay the expenses, she made up the deficit liberally,
which happened almost every time. He tried to make her understand that
they would be quite as comfortable somewhere else, in a smaller hotel,
but she always found some objection."
You see all this is very simple when one reads the whole; but in
cuttings like those of the Government Attorney, the smallest word
becomes a mountain.
THE GOVERNMENT ATTORNEY:
I did not quote any of those phrases last mentioned; but since you wish
to quote what I have not incriminated, it would be well not to pass over
the foot of the page adjoining page 50.
I pass over nothing, but I insist upon citing the incriminated passages
in the quotations. We are quoting from pages 77 and 78.
THE GOVERNMENT ATTORNEY:
I refer to the quotations made to the audience, and thought you imputed
me with having cited the lines you are about to read.
Mr. Attorney, I have quoted all the passages by whose aid you have
attempted to constitute a misdemeanor--which accusation is now
shattered. You developed before the audience what seemed to you
convincing, and have had a fair opportunity. Happily we had the book and
the defense knew the book; if he had not known it, his position, allow
me to tell you, would have been very awkward. I am called upon to
explain such and such passages to myself and to add others for the
benefit of the audience. If I had not possessed the book, as I do, the
defense had been difficult. Now, I can show you, through a faithful
analysis of the romance, that far from being considered a lascivious
work, it should be considered, on the contrary, eminently moral. After
doing this, I took the passages that have been the motive for police
correction, and after I followed the cuttings with what preceded and
what succeeded, the accusation became so weak that you are in revolt the
moment I have finished reading them! These same passages that you
stamped as recriminating, I have used an equal right to quote myself,
for the purpose of showing you the folly of the accusation.
I continue my quotation where I stopped at the bottom of page 78.
"He was bored now when Emma suddenly began to sob on his breast, and his
heart, like the people who can only stand a certain amount of music,
dozed to the sound of a love whose delicacies he no longer noted.
"They knew one another too well for any of those surprises of
possession, that increase its joys a hundredfold. She was as sick of
him as he was weary of her. Emma found again in adultery all the
platitudes of marriage."
_Platitudes of marriage_! He who did the cutting here has said: Now,
here is a man who says that in marriage there are only platitudes! It is
an attack on marriage, it is an outrage to morals! You will agree,
Mr. Attorney, that with cuttings artistically made, one can go far in
the way of incriminating. What is it that the author called the
platitudes of marriage? That monotony which Emma had dreaded, which she
had wished to escape from but had found continually in adultery, which
was precisely the disillusion. You now see clearly that when, in the
place of cutting off the members of certain phrases and cutting out some
words, we read what precedes and what follows, nothing remains for
incrimination; and you can well comprehend that my client, who knew what
he wished to say, must be a little in revolt at seeing it thus
travestied. Let us continue:
"She was as sick of him as he was weary of her. Emma found again in
adultery all the platitudes of marriage.
"But how to get rid of him? Then, though she might feel humiliated at
the baseness of such enjoyment, she clung to it from habit or from
corruption, and each day she hungered after them the more, exhausting
all felicity in wishing for too much of it. She accused Leon of her
baffled hopes, as if he had betrayed her; and she even longed for some
catastrophe that would bring about their separation, since she had not
the courage to make up her mind to it herself.
"She none the less went on writing him love letters, in virtue of the
notion that a woman must write to her lover.
"But whilst she wrote it was another man she saw, a phantom fashioned
out of her most ardent memories. [This is certainly not incriminating.]
"Then she fell back exhausted, for these transports of vague love
wearied her more than great debauchery.
"She now felt constant ache all over her. Often she even received a
summons, stamped paper that she barely looked at. She would have liked
not to be alive, or to be always asleep."
I call that an excitation of virtue through a horror of vice, as the
author himself calls it, and which the reader, no longer perplexed,
cannot fail to see, unless influenced by ill-will.
And now, something more to make you perceive what kind of man you are
about to judge. And in order to show you, not what kind of justification
I may expect, but whether M. Flaubert has made use of lascivious colour,
and whence he got his inspiration, let me put upon your desk this book
used by him, in whose passages he found himself inspired to paint this
concupiscence, the entanglements of this woman who sought happiness in
illicit pleasures, but could not find it there, who sought again and
again and never found it. Whence has Flaubert derived his inspiration,
gentlemen? It was from this book; listen:
ILLUSION OF THE SENSES.
"Whoever, then, attaches himself to the senses, must necessarily wander
from object to object and deceive himself, so to speak, by a change of
place, as concupiscence,--that is to say, love of pleasure,--is always
changing, because its ardour languishes and dies in continuity, and it
is only change that makes it revive. Again, what is that other
characteristic of a life of the senses, that alternate movement of
appetite and disgust, of disgust and appetite, the soul floating ever
uncertain between ardour which abates and ardour which is renewed?
_Inconstantia concupiscentia_. That is what a life of the senses
is. However, in this perpetual movement, one must not allow himself to
be deceived by the image of wandering liberty."
This is what a life of the senses is. Who has said that? Who has
written these words which you are about to hear upon these excitements
and excessive ardor? What is the book which M. Flaubert perused day and
night, and which has inspired the passages that the Government Attorney
condemns? It is by Bossuet! What I shall read to you is a fragment of
Bossuet's discourse upon _Illicit Pleasures_. I shall bring you to see
that all these incriminated passages are--not plagiarized; the man who
appropriates an idea is not a plagiarist--but imitations of Bossuet. Do
you wish for another example? Here it is:
"And do not ask me, Christians, in what way this great change of
pleasure into punishment will come about. The thing is proved by the
Scriptures. It is Truth who has said it, it is the All-Powerful who has
made it so. And sometimes, if you will look at the nature of the
passions to which you abandon your heart, you will easily comprehend
that they may become an intolerable punishment. They all have in
themselves cruel pain, disgust and bitterness. They all have an infinity
which is angered by not being able to be satisfied. There are transports
of rage mingled in all of them which degenerates into a kind of fury not
less painful than unreasonable. Love, if I may be permitted so to name
it in this guise, has its uncertainties, its violent agitations, its
irresolute resolutions and an abyss of jealousies."
"Ah! What, then, is easier than making of our passions an insupportable
pain or sin, when, if we cut out, as is very just, the little sweetness
through which they lead us, there is left of them only the cruel
disquiet and bitterness with which they abound? Our sins are against us,
our sins are upon us, our sins are in the midst of us; like an arrow
piercing our body, an insupportable weight upon our head, a poison
devouring our entrails."
Is not all that you have just listened to designed to show you the
bitterness of passion? I leave you this book, lined and thumb-marked by
the studious man who has found his thought there. And that man, who has
been inspired from a source of this kind, who has written of adultery in
the terms you have listened to, is prosecuted for outrage of public and
A few lines still upon the _woman sinner_, and you will see how
M. Flaubert, having decided to paint this ardour, understood taking
inspiration from this model:
"But, punished for our error, without being deceived by it, we seek in
change the remedy for our scorn; we wander from object to object, and
if, finally there is some one who holds us, it is not because we are
content with our choice, but because we are bound by our inconstancy."
* * * * *
"All appeared to her empty, false, disgusting in these creatures: far
from finding there those first charms which her heart had had so much
difficulty in defending, she saw in them now only frivolity, danger and
* * * * *
"I will not speak of an entanglement of passion; what fears there are
that the mystery of it cannot dispel! what measures to keep on the side
of well-being and pride! what eyes to shun! what watchers to deceive!
what returns to fear from those whom one chooses for their aids and
confidants in their passion! what indignities to suffer from him,
perhaps, for whom one has sacrificed honour and liberty, and of whom one
dare not complain! To all this, add those cruel moments when passion,
less lively, leaves us to choose between falling back upon ourselves and
feeling all the humility of our position, and those moments where the
heart, born for more solid pleasures, leaves us with our own idols and
finds its punishment in its own disgust and inconstancy. Profane world!
if there is in you that felicity that is so much vaunted, favor your
adorers with it nor punish them for the faith they have added so lightly
to your promises."
Let me say to you here: when a man in the silence of the night,
meditates upon the causes of enticement for woman, when he finds them in
her education and, putting aside personal observation, for the sake of
expressing his thoughts, matures them at the sources I have indicated,
not allowing himself to use his pen except from inspiration of Bossuet
and Massillon, permit me to ask you if there is a word to express my
surprise, my grief, on seeing this man dragged into Court--on account of
some passages in his book, and precisely for the truest and most
elevated ideas that he was able to bring together! And I pray you not to
forget this in relation to the charge of outrage against religious
morals! And then, if you will permit me, I will put in opposition to all
this, under your very eyes, what I myself call attacking the moral, that
is to say, satisfaction of the senses without bitterness, without those
large drops of cold sweat which fall from the brow of those who give
themselves over to it; and I will not quote to you from licentious books
in which the authors have sought to arouse the senses; I will quote from
only one book--which is given as a prize in colleges, but whose author's
name I ask leave to withhold until after I have read you a passage from
it. Here is the passage: I will ask you to pass the volume. It is a copy
that was given to a college student as a prize. I prefer you to take
this copy rather than M. Flaubert's:
"The next day I was received into her apartment. There I felt all that
voluptuousness carries with it. The room was filled with the most
agreeable perfumes. She lay upon a bed which was enclosed in garlands
of flowers. She appeared to be lying there languishingly. She extended
her hand to me and made me sit beside her. In all, even in the veil
which covered her face, there was a charm. I could see the form of her
beautiful body. A simple cloth which moved as she moved allowed me at
one time to see, and at another to lose sight of, her ravishing beauty."
A simple cloth when it was extended over a dead body appeared to you a
lascivious image; here it is extended over a living woman:
"She noticed that my eyes were occupied, and when she saw them inflamed,
the cloth seemed to open itself away from her; I saw all the treasures
of a divine beauty. At this moment she took my hand; my eyes were
wandering. There is only my dear Ardasire, I cry out, who can be as
beautiful; but I swear to the gods that my fidelity.... She threw
herself on my neck and drew me into her arms. Suddenly the room became
darkened; her veil opened and she gave me a kiss. I was beside myself; a
flame started suddenly through my veins and aroused all my senses. The
idea of Ardasire was far from me. She remained to me only as a
memory ... there appeared to me but one thought.... I was going.... I
was going to prefer this one even to her. Already my hands had wandered
to her breasts; they ran rapidly everywhere; love showed itself only in
its fury; it hurried on to victory; a moment more and Ardasire could not
Who, now, has written that? It is not the author of _The New Heloise_,
it is the President, Montesquieu! Here is no bitterness, no disgust, but
all is sacrificed to literary beauty, and they give it as a prize to
pupils in rhetoric, without doubt to serve as a model in the
amplifications and descriptions that they are required to
write. Montesquieu described in his Persian Letters a scene which could
not even be read. It concerns a woman placed between two men who dispute
over her. This woman, placed between two men, has dreams--which appear
to the author very agreeable.
Shall we sum up, Mr. Attorney? Or is it necessary for me to quote you
Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his _Confessions_, and some others? No, I will
only say to the judges that if, on account of his description of the
carriage in _The Double Misunderstanding_, M. Merimee had been
prosecuted, he would have been acquitted immediately. One sees in his
book only a work of art of great literary beauty. One would no more
condemn it than he would condemn paintings or statuary, which is not
content with representing all the beauties of the body, but wishes to
add ardour and passion. I will follow it no farther; I ask you to
recognise the fact that M. Flaubert has not weighted his images and has
done only one thing: he has touched with a firm hand the scene of
degradation. At each line of his book he has brought out the
disillusion, and instead of ending it with something charming, he has
undertaken to show us that this woman, after meeting scorn, abandonment,
and ruin of her house, comes to a frightful death. In a word, I can only
repeat what I said at the beginning of this plea, that M. Flaubert is
the author of a good book, a book which aims at the excitation of virtue
by arousing a horror of vice.
I will now look into his outrage against religion. An outrage against
religion committed by M. Flaubert! And in what respect, if you please?
The Government Attorney has thought he found in him a sceptic. I can
assure the Government Attorney that he is deceived. I am not here to
make a profession of faith, I am here only to defend a book, and for
that reason I shall limit myself to a simple word. Now as to the book, I
defy the Government Attorney to find in it anything that resembles an
outrage against religion. You have seen how religion was introduced in
Emma's education, and how this religion, false in a thousand ways, could
not hold Emma from the bent that carried her astray. Would you know in
what kind of language M. Flaubert speaks of religion? Listen to some
lines that I take from the first number, pages 231, 232 and 233:
"One evening when the window was open, and she, sitting by it, had been
watching Lestiboudois, the beadle, trimming the box, she suddenly heard
the Angelus ringing.
"It was the beginning of April, when the primroses are in bloom, and a
warm wind blows over the flower-beds newly turned, and the gardens, like
women, seem to be getting ready for the summer fetes. Through the bars
of the arbour and away beyond, the river could be seen in the fields,
meandering through the grass in wandering curves. The evening vapors
rose between the leafless poplars, touching their outlines with a violet
tint, paler and more transparent than a subtle gauze caught athwart
their branches. In the distance cattle moved about; neither their steps
nor their lowing could be heard; and the bell, still ringing through the
air, kept up its peaceful lamentation.
"With this repeated tinkling the thoughts of the young woman lost
themselves in old memories of her youth and school-days. She remembered
the great candlesticks that rose above the vases full of flowers on the
altar, and the tabernacle with its small columns. She would have liked
to be once more lost in the long line of white veils, marked off here
and there by the stiff black hoods of the good sisters bending over
This is the language in which his religious sentiment is expressed. And
yet we have understood from the Government Attorney that scepticism
reigned in M. Flaubert's book from one end to the other. Where, I pray
you, have you found this scepticism?
THE GOVERNMENT ATTORNEY:
I have not said that there was any of it in its inner meaning.
If not in its inner meaning, where then, is it? In your cuttings,
evidently. But here is the work entire, as the Court will judge it, and
it can see that the religious sentiment is so forcefully imprinted there
that the accusation of scepticism is pure slander. And now, the
Government Attorney will permit me to say to him that it was not for the
purpose of accusing the author of scepticism that all this trouble has
been made. Let us proceed:
"At mass on Sundays, when she looked up, she saw the gentle face of the
Virgin amid the blue smoke of the rising incense. Then she was moved;
she felt herself weak and quite deserted, like the down of a bird
whirled by the tempest, and it was unconsciously that she went towards
the church, inclined to no matter what devotions, so that her soul was
absorbed and all existence lost in it."
This, gentlemen, is the first appeal of religion to hold Emma from the
trend of her passions. She has fallen, poor woman, and then been
repelled by the foot of the man to whom she abandoned herself. She is
nearly dead, but raises herself and becomes reanimated; and you shall
see now what is written in the 15th of November number, 1856, page 548:
"One day, when at the height of her illness, she had thought herself
dying, and had asked for the communion; and while they were making the
preparations in her room for the sacrament, while they were turning the
night-table, covered with sirups, into an altar, and while Felicite was
strewing dahlia flowers on the floor, Emma felt some power passing over
her that freed her from her pains, from all perception, from all
feeling. Her body, relieved, no longer thought; another life was
beginning; it seemed to her that her being, mounting toward God, would
be annihilated in that love like a burning insense that melts into
vapour. [You see that this is the language in which M. Flaubert speaks
of religious things]. The bed-clothes were sprinkled with holy water,
the priest drew from the holy pyx the white wafer; and it was fainting
with a celestial joy that she put out her lips to accept the body of the
Saviour presented to her."
I ask the pardon of the Government Attorney, I ask the Court's pardon
for interrupting this passage; but I must needs say that it is the
author who is speaking, and bring to your notice in what terms he
expresses the mystery of the communion. Before going on with the
reading, I must needs impress the literary value of this picture upon
the Court and insist that they seize upon these expressions which are
the author's own:
"The curtains of the alcove floated gently round her like clouds, and
the rays of the two tapers burning on the night-table seemed to shine
like dazzling halos. Then she let her head fall back, fancying she heard
in space the music of seraphic harps, and perceived in an azure sky, on
a golden throne in the midst of saints holding green palms, God the
Father, resplendent with majesty, who with a sign sent to earth angels
with wings of fire to carry her away in their arms."
* * * * *
"This splendid vision dwelt in her memory as the most beautiful thing
that it was possible to dream, so that now she strove to recall her
sensation, that still lasted, however, but in a less exclusive fashion
and with a deeper sweetness. Her soul, tortured by pride, at length
found rest in Christian humility, and, tasting the joy of weakness, she
saw within herself the destruction of her will, that must have left a
wide entrance for the inroads of heavenly grace. There existed, then, in
the place of happiness, still greater joys,--another love beyond all
loves, without pause and without end, one that would grow eternally! She
saw amid the illusions of her hope a state of purity floating above the
earth mingling with heaven, to which she aspired. She wanted to become a
saint. She bought chaplets and wore amulets; she wished to have in her
room, by the side of her bed, a reliquary set in emeralds that she might
kiss it every evening."
Here are some of his religious sentiments! And if you wish to pause a
moment to consider the author's thought, I will ask you to turn the page
and read the first three lines of the second paragraph:
"She grew provoked at the doctrines of religion; the arrogance of the
polemic writings displeased her by their inveteracy in attacking people
she did not know; and the secular stories, relieved with religion,
seemed to her written in such ignorance of the world, that they
insensibly estranged her from the truths for whose proof she was
This is the language of M. Flaubert. Now, if you please, we come to
another scene, that of the extreme unction. Oh! Mr. Government
Attorney, how you have deceived yourself when, stopping at the first
words, you accuse my client of mingling the sacred with the profane;
when he has been content to translate the beautiful formulas of extreme
unction, at the moment when the priest touches the organs of sense, at
the moment where, according to the ritual, he says: _Per istam
unctionem, et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus
You said it was not necessary to touch upon holy things. With what right
do you misinterpret these holy words:
"May God, in His holy pity, pardon you for all the sins that you have
committed through sight, taste, hearing, etc.?"
Wait, I am going to read the condemned passage, and that will be all my
vengeance. I dare say vengeance, because the author has need of being
avenged! Yes, it is necessary for M. Flaubert to go out of here not
only acquitted, but avenged! You will see from what kind of reading he
has been nourished. The condemned passage is on page 271 of the
December 15th number, and runs thus:
"Pale as a statue, and with eyes red as fire, Charles, not weeping,
stood opposite her at the foot of the bed, while the priest bending one
knee, was muttering words in a low voice."
This whole picture is magnificent, and the wording of it
irresistible. But be quiet, and I will not prolong it beyond
measure. Now here is the condemnation!
"She turned her face slowly, and seemed filled with joy on seeing
suddenly the violet stole, no doubt finding again, in the midst of a
temporary lull in her pain, the lost voluptuousness of her first
mystical transports, with the visions of eternal beatitude that were
"The priest rose to take the crucifix: then she stretched forward her
neck as one who is athirst, and gluing her lips to the body of the
Man-God, she pressed upon it with all her expiring strength the fullest
kiss of love that she had ever given."
The extreme unction has not yet begun; but we are reproached for this
kiss. I am not going to search in the history of Saint Theresa whom you
perhaps know, but the memory of whom is too far away, I am not going to
seek in Fenelon for the mysticism of Madame Guyon, nor in more modern
mysticisms, in which I find much reason. I only wish to ask of those
schools which you designate as belonging to sensual Christianity, the
explanation of this kiss; it is Bossuet, Bossuet himself, of whom I
would ask it:
"Obey, and strive finally to enter into the disposition of Jesus in
communing, which is the disposition of harmony, joy and love; the whole
gospel proclaims it. Jesus wishes that we may be with Him; He wishes to
rejoice and He wishes us to rejoice with Him: He has given Himself...."
I continue the reading of the condemned passage:
"Then he recited the _Misereatur_ and the _Indulgentiam_, dipped his
right thumb in the oil and began to give extreme unction. First upon the
eyes, that had so coveted all worldly pomp; then upon the nostrils,
greedy for warm breezes and amorous perfumes; then upon the mouth, that
had uttered lies, that curled with pride and cried out in lewdness; then
upon the hands, that had delighted in sensual touches, and finally upon
the soles of feet, so swift of yore when she was running to satisfy her
desires, and that now would walk no more.
"The cure wiped his fingers, threw the bit of cotton dipped in oil into
the fire, and came and sat down by the dying woman, to tell her that she
must now blend her sufferings with those of Jesus Christ, and abandon
herself to the Divine mercy.
"Finishing his exhortations, he tried to place in her hand a blessed
candle, symbol of the celestial glory with which she was soon to be
surrounded. Emma, too weak, could not close her fingers, and the taper,
but for Monsieur Bournisien, would have fallen to the ground.
"However, she was not quite so pale, and her face had an expression of
serenity as if the sacrament had cured her.
"The priest did not fail to point this out; he even explained to Bovary
that the Lord sometimes prolonged the life of persons when he thought it
meet for their salvation; and Charles remembered the day when, so near
death, she had received the communion. Perhaps there was no need to
despair, he thought."
Now, when a woman dies and the priest goes to give her extreme unction,
if one portrays that mystic scene and translates for us the sacramental
words with scrupulous fidelity, they say that he has touched upon holy
things; that he has put a rash hand on sacred matters; because to the
_deliquisti per oculos, per os, per aurem, per manus et per pedes_ he
has added the sin which each of the organs has committed. But we are not
the first to walk in this path. M. Sainte-Beuve, in a book which you
know, has also a scene of extreme unction, and here is how he expresses
"Oh! yes, upon the eyes first, as the most noble and most alive of the
senses; upon those eyes for what they have seen and regarded too
tenderly, or that which was too perfidious in others' eyes, or too
mortal; for what they have read and re-read of endearment that was too
dear; for what they have poured out in vain tears over fragile goods and
faithless creatures; for the sleep which they have too often forgotten,
thinking only of the evening!
"Upon the ears also for what they have heard and allowed themselves to
hear that was too sweet, too flattering and intoxicating; for that sound
which the ear steals from deceptive words; for what it drinks in from
"Then the smell, for the too subtle and voluptuous perfumes of evening
and the springtime in the depth of the woods, for flowers received in
the morning and all through the day, and breathed in with so much
"Upon the lips, for what they have pronounced that was too confused or
too open; for what they did not reply at certain moments or what they
have not revealed to certain persons; for what they have sung in
solitude that was too melodious and too full of tears; for their
inarticulate murmur and for their silence!
"Upon the neck, in the place of on the breast, for the ardor of desire
according to the consecrated expression (_propter ardorem libidinis_);
yes, for the grief in affection and the rivalry, for too much anguish in
human tenderness, for the tears which are suffocated in a voiceless
throat, for all that goes to wound the heart and break it!
"Upon the hands also, for having seized a hand which was not bound to
holiness; for having received too burning tears; perhaps for having
begun to write and for finishing a response not lawful!
"Upon the feet, for not having fled, for not having been satisfied with
long, solitary walks, for not having been weary soon enough in the midst
of temptations which were ever beginning anew!"
You did not prosecute that. Here are two men who, each in his own
sphere, has taken the same thing and who have, according to his own
idea, added the sin, the fault. Can it be that you make an indictment
for simply translating the formula of the ritual: _Quidquid deliquisti
per oculos, per aurem_, etc.?
M. Flaubert has done just what M. Sainte-Beuve did, without
plagiarizing. He has made use of a right which belongs to any writer,
to add to what another has said and complete the subject. The last
scene of the romance of _Madame Bovary_ has been made a complete study
of this kind from religious documents. M. Flaubert has taken the scene
of the extreme unction from a book which a venerable ecclesiastic, one
of his friends, lent to him; this same friend has read the scene and
been moved to tears, not imagining that the majesty of religion was in
any way offended. The book is entitled: _An historic, dogmatic, moral,
liturgical and canonical explanation of the catechism, with an answer to
the objections drawn from science against religion, by the Abbe Ambroise
Guillois, curate of Notre-Dame-du-Pre, 6th edition, etc_., a work
approved by His Eminence the Cardinal Gousset, N.N.S.S. the Bishops and
Archbishops of Mans, of Tours, of Bordeaux, of Cologne, etc., vol. III.,
printed at Mans, by Charles Monnoyer, 1851. Now, you shall see in this
book, as you saw just now in Bossuet's, the principles, and, in a
certain way, the text of the passages which the Government has
condemned. It is no longer M. Sainte-Beuve, an artist, a literary
rhapsodist, whom I am quoting; we now listen to the Church itself:
"Extreme unction can give back health to the body if it be useful to the
glory of God" ... and the priest says that this often happens. Now, here
is the extreme unction:
"The priest addresses the sick with a short exhortation, if he is in a
state to hear it, in order to dispose him worthily to receive the
sacrament which is to be administered to him.
"The priest then passes the unction upon the sick person with the
stiletto or the extremity of his right thumb, which he dips each time in
the oil. This unction should be made especially upon the five parts of
the body which nature has given to man as the organs of sensation,
namely: the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the mouth and the hands."
"As the priest makes the unctions [we have followed from point to point
the ritual which we have copied], he pronounces the words which
correspond to them.
"_To the eyes, upon the closed eyeball_: Through this holy unction and
His divine pity, may God pardon all the sins that you have committed
through sight. The sick person should at this moment have a new hatred
of all the sins committed through sight: such as indiscreet looks,
criminal curiosity, and reading what has caused to be born in him a host
of thoughts contrary to faith or morals."
What has M. Flaubert done? He has put in the mouth of the priest, by
uniting the two parts, what should be in his thoughts and also those of
the sick person. He has copied purely and simply.
"_To the ears_: Through this holy unction and through His divine pity,
may God pardon all the sins that you have committed through the sense of
hearing. The sick person should, at this moment, detest anew all the
errors of which he is guilty from listening with pleasure to slander,
calumny, proposed dishonesty and obscene songs.
"_To the nostrils_: Through this holy unction and His divine pity, may
the Lord pardon all the sins that you have committed through the sense
of smell. At this moment the sick person should detest anew all the
sins that he has committed through the sense of smell, his refined and
voluptuous search for perfumes, all his sensibilities, all that he has
breathed in of iniquitous odors.
"_To the mouth, upon the lips_: Through this holy unction and through
His great pity, may the Lord pardon you all the sins that you have
committed by the sense of taste and words. The sick man at this moment
should detest anew all the sins that he has committed in oaths and
blaspheming ... in eating and drinking to excess....
"_Upon the hands_: Through this holy unction and through His great pity,
may the Lord pardon all the sins that you have committed through the
sense of touch. The sick man ought to detest at this moment all the
larcenies, the injustice of which he has been guilty, all the liberties,
more or less criminal, which he has allowed himself. The priest receives
the unction on his hands from without because he has already received it
from within at the time of his ordination, and the sick person receives
"_Upon the feet_: Through this holy unction and His great pity, may God
pardon all the sins that you have committed in your walks. The sick man
ought, at this moment, to detest anew all the steps that he has taken in
the path of iniquity, such as scandalous walks, and criminal
interviews.... The unction of the feet is made upon the top or on the
sole, according to the convenience of the sick person, and according to
the custom of the diocese where it takes place. The most common practice
seems to be to make it on the soles of the feet.
"And finally upon the breast. [M. Sainte-Beuve has copied this; we have
not, because it was concerned with the breast of a woman.] _Propter
ardorem libidinis,_ etc.
"_On the breast_: Through this holy unction and His great pity, may the
Lord pardon all the sins which have been committed from the ardour of
the passions. The sick man ought, at this moment, to detest anew all the
bad thoughts to which he has abandoned himself, all sentiments of
hatred, or vengeance that he has nourished in his heart."
And following the ritual, we could have spoken of something more than
the breast, but God knows what holy anger would have been aroused in the
Public Attorney's office, if we had spoken of the loins!
"_To the loins_: Through this holy unction and His great pity, may the
Lord pardon all the sins that you have committed by irregular impulses
of the flesh."
If we had said that, what a thunderbolt you would have had with which to
attempt to crush us, Mr. Attorney! and nevertheless, the ritual adds:
"The sick man ought, at this moment, to detest anew all illicit
pleasures, carnal delights, etc...."
This is the ritual; and you have seen the condemned article. It has
nothing of raillery in it, but is serious and earnest. And I repeat to
you that he who lent my client this book, and saw my client make the use
of it that he has, has taken him by the hand with tears in his eyes. You
see, then, Mr. Government Attorney, how rash--not to use an expression
which in order to be exact is not too severe--is your accusation of our
touching upon holy things. You see now that we have not mingled the
profane with the sacred when, at each sense we indicated the sin
committed by that sense, since it is the language of the Church itself.
I insist now upon mentioning the other details of the charge of outrage
against religion. The Public Minister said to me: "It is no longer
religion but the morals of all time that you have outraged; you have
insulted death!" How have we insulted death? Because at the moment when
this woman dies, there passes in the street a man whom she had met more
than once, to whom she had given alms from her carriage as she was going
to her adulterous meetings; a blind man whom she was accustomed to see,
who sang his song walking along slowly by the side of her carriage, to
whom she threw a piece of money, but whose countenance made her shiver?
This man was passing in the street; and at the moment when Divine pity
pardoned, or promised pardon, to the unfortunate woman who was expiating
the faults of her life by a frightful death, human raillery appeared to
her in the form of the song under her window. Great Heavens! you find
an outrage in this! But M. Flaubert has only done what Shakespeare and
Goethe have done, who, at the supreme moment of death, have not failed
to make heard some chant, or perhaps plaint, or it might be raillery,
which recalls to him who is passing to eternity some pleasure which he
will never more enjoy, or some fault to be atoned. Let us read:
"In fact, she looked around her slowly, as one awakening from a dream;
then in a distinct voice she asked for her looking-glass, and remained
some time bending over it, until the big tears fell from her eyes. Then
she turned away her head with a sigh and fell back upon the pillows."
I could not read it, I am like Lamartine: "The punishment seems to me to
go beyond truth...." I should not consider that I was doing a bad deed,
Mr. Attorney, in reading these pages to my married daughters, honest
girls who have had a good example and good teaching, and who would
never, never go away from the straight path for indiscretion, or away
from things that could and ought to be understood.... It is impossible
for me to continue this reading and I shall hold myself rigorously to
the condemned passages:
"As the death-rattle became stronger [Charles was by her side, the man
whom you did not see but who is admirable] the priest prayed faster; his
prayers mingled with Bovary's stifled sobs, and sometimes all seemed
lost in the muffled murmur of the Latin syllables that tolled like a
"Suddenly on the pavement was heard a loud noise of clogs, and the
clattering of a stick; and a voice, a raucous voice, sang:
"'Maids in the warmth of a summer day,
Dream of love and of love alway;
The wind is strong this summer day,
Her petticoat is blown away.'"
Emma raised herself like a galvanized corpse, her hair undone, her eyes
"Where the sickle blades have been,
Nannette, gathering ears of corn,
Passes bending down, my queen,
To the earth where they were born."
"'The blind man!" she cries.
"And Emma began to laugh, an atrocious, frantic, despairing laugh,
thinking she saw the hideous face of the poor wretch that stood out
against the eternal night like a menace.
"She fell back upon the mattress in a convulsion. They all drew
near. She was dead."
You see, gentlemen, in this supreme moment, a recalling of her sin, and
with it remorse and all that goes with it of poignancy and fear. It is
not alone the whim of an artist wishing only to make a contrast without
a purpose or a moral; she hears the blind man in the street singing the
frightful song he had sung when she was returning all in a perspiration
and hideous from an adulterous meeting; it is the same blind man whom
she saw at each of those meetings; the blind man who pursued her with
his song and his importunity; it is he who comes now to personify human
rage at the instant when Divine pity comes to her and follows her to the
supreme moment of death! And this is called an outrage against public
morals! But I say, on the contrary, that it is an homage to public
morals, that there is nothing more moral than this; I say that in this
book the vice of education is awake, that it is taken from the true,
from the living flesh of our society, and that at each stroke the author
places before us this question: "Have you done what you ought for the
education of your daughters? Is the religion you have given them such as
will sustain them in the tempests of life, or is it only a mass of
carnal superstitions which leaves them without support when the storm
rages? Have you taught them that life is not the realization of
chimerical dreams, that it is something prosaic to which it is necessary
to accommodate oneself? Have you taught them that? Have you done what
you ought for their happiness? Have you said to them: Poor children,
outside the route I have pointed out to you, in the pleasures you may
pursue, only disgust awaits you, trouble, disorder, dilapidation,
convulsions, and execution...." And you will see that if anything were
lacking in the picture, the sheriff's officer is there; there, too, is
the Jew who has seized and sold her furniture to satisfy the caprices of
this woman; and the husband is still ignorant of this. Nothing remains
for the unfortunate woman, except death!
But, said the Public Minister, her death is voluntary; this woman died
in her own time.
But how could she live? Was she not condemned? Had she not drunk to the
last dregs her shame and baseness?
Yes, upon our stage we show women who have strayed (and I cannot say
what they have done) as happy, charming and smiling. _Questam corpore
facerant_. I limit myself to this remark: When they show them to us
happy, charming, enveloped in muslin, presenting a gracious hand to
counts, marquises and dukes, often responding themselves to the name of
countess or duchess, you call that respecting public morals. But the man
who depicts the adulterous woman dying a shameful death, commits an
outrage against public morals!
Now, I do not wish to say it is not your opinion that you have
expressed, since you have expressed it, but you have yielded to a
prejudice. No, it cannot be you, the husband, the father of a family,
the man who is there, it is not you, that is not possible; without the
prejudice of the speech of the prosecution and a preconceived idea, you
would never say that M. Flaubert was the author of a bad book! Surely,
left to your inspirations, your appreciation would be the same as
mine. I do not speak from a literary point of view; but from a moral and
religious standard, as you understand it and I understand it, you and I
could not differ.
They have said, furthermore, that we have brought upon the scene a
materialistic curate. We took the curate as we took the husband. He is
not an eminent ecclesiastic, but an ordinary priest, a country
curate. And as we have insulted no one, expressed no thought or
sentiment that could be injurious to a husband, so we have insulted no
ecclesiastic. I have only a word to say beyond this. Do you wish to
read books in which ecclesiastics play a deplorable role? Take _Gil
Blas_, _The Canon_ (of Balzac), _Notre-Dame de Paris_ of Victor Hugo. If
you wish to read of priests who are the shame of the clergy, seek them
elsewhere, for you will not find them in _Madame Bovary_. What have we
shown? A country curate, who in his function of country curate is, like
M. Bovary, an ordinary man. Have I represented him as a gourmand, a
libertine, or a drunkard? I have not said a word of that kind. I have
represented him fulfilling his ministry, not with elevated intelligence,
but as his nature allowed him to fulfill it. I have put in contact with
him, and in an almost continual state of discussion, a type which
lives--as the creatures of M. Prudhomme live--as all other creations of
our time will live who are taken from truth and which it is not possible
for one to forget, and that is the country pharmacist, the Voltairean,
the sceptic, the incredulous man, who is in a perpetual quarrel with the
curate. But in these quarrels, who is it that is beaten, buffeted, and
ridiculed? It is Homais; to him is the most comic role given, because he
is the most true, because he best paints our sceptical epoch, a fury
whom we call a priest-hater. Permit me still to read to you page 206. It
is the good woman of the inn who offers something to her curate:
"'What can I do for you, Monsieur le Cure?' asked the landlady, as she
reached down from the chimney one of the copper candlesticks placed with
their candles in a row. 'Will you take something? A thimbleful of
_cassis_? A glass of wine?'
"The priest declined very politely. He had come for his umbrella, that
he had forgotten the other day at the Ernemont convent, and after asking
Madame Lefrancois to have it sent to him at the presbytery in the
evening, he left for the church, from which the Angelus was ringing.
"When the chemist no longer heard the noise of his boots along the
square, he thought the priest's behavior just now very unbecoming. This
refusal to take any refreshment seemed to him the most odious hypocrisy;
all priests tippled on the sly, and were trying to bring back the days
of the tithe.
"The landlady took up the defense of her cure.
"'Besides, he could double up four men like you over his knee. Last year
he helped our people to bring in the straw; he carried as many as six
trusses at once, he is so strong.'
"'Bravo!' said the chemist. 'Now just send your daughters to confess to
fellows with such a temperament! I, if I were the Government, I'd have
the priests bled once a month. Yes, Madame Lefrancois, every month--a
good phlebotomy, in the interests of the police and morals.'
"'Be quiet, Monsieur Homais. You are an infidel; you've no religion.'
"The chemist answered: 'I have a religion, my religion, and I even have
more than all these others with their mummeries and their juggling. I
adore God, on the contrary. I believe in the Supreme Being, in a
Creator, whatever he may be. I care little who has placed us here below
to fulfill our duties as citizens and fathers of families; but I don't
need to go to church to kiss silver plates, and fatten, out of my
pocket, a lot of good-for-nothings who live better than we do. For one
can know him as well in a wood, in a field, or even contemplating the
eternal vault like the ancients. My God! mine is the God of Socrates,
of Franklin, of Voltaire, and Beranger! I am for the profession of faith
of the 'Savoyard Vicar,' and the immortal principles of '89! And I can't
admit of an old boy of a God who takes walks in his garden with a cane
in his hand, who lodges his friends in the belly of whales, dies
uttering a cry, and rises again at the end of three days; things absurd
in themselves, and completely opposed, moreover, to all physical laws,
Which proves to us, by the way, that priests have always wallowed in
torpid ignorance, in which they would fain engulf the people with them.'
"He ceased looking round for an audience, for in his bubbling over the
chemist had for a moment fancied himself in the midst of the town
council. But the landlady no longer heeded him; she was listening to a
What is this? A dialogue, a scene such as occurred each time that Homais
had occasion to speak of priests.
There is something better in the last passage of page 271:
"Public attention was distracted by the appearance of Monsieur
Bournisien, who was going across the market with the holy oil.
"Homais, as we due to his principles, compared priests to ravens
attracted by the odour of death. The sight of an ecclesiastic was
personally disagreeable to him, for the cassock made him think of the
shroud, and he detested the one from some fear of the other."
Our old friend, he who lent us the catechism, was very happy over this
phrase; he said to us: "It is a true hit; it is indeed the portrait of a
_priestophobe_ whom the cassock makes think of a shroud, and who holds
one in execration from a little fear of the other." He was impious, and
he profaned the cassock a little through impiety, perhaps, but much more
because he was made to think of a shroud.
Permit me to make a _resume_ of all this. I am defending a man who, if
he had met a literary criticism upon the form of his book, or upon
certain expressions, or on too much detail, upon one point or another,
would have accepted that literary criticism with the best heart in the
world. But to find himself accused of an outrage against morals and
religion! M. Flaubert has not recovered from it; and he protests here
before you with all the astonishment and all the energy of which he is
capable against such an accusation.
You are not of the sort to condemn books upon certain lines, you are of
the sort to judge after reflection, to judge of the way of putting a
work, and you will put this question with which I began my plea and with
which I shall end it: Does the reading of such a book give a love of
vice, or inspire a horror of it? Does not a punishment so terrible drive
one to virtue and encourage it? The reading of this book cannot produce
upon you an impression other than it has produced upon us, namely: that
the work is excellent as a whole, and that the details in it are
irreproachable. All classic literature authorizes the painting of
scenes like these we are passing upon.
With this understanding, we might have taken one for a model, which we
have not done; we have imposed upon ourselves a sobriety which we ask
you to take into account. If, as is possible, M. Flaubert has
overstepped the bound he placed for himself, in one word or another, I
have only to remind you that this is a first work, but I should then
have to tell you that his error was simply one of self-deception, and
was without damage to public morals. And in making him come into
Court--him, whom you know a little now by his book, him whom you already
love a little and will love more, I am sure, when you know him
better--is enough of a punishment, a punishment already too cruel. And
now it is for you to decide. You have already judged the book as a whole
and in its details; it is not possible for you to hesitate!
* * * * *
The Court has given audience for a part of the last week to the debate
of the suit brought against MM. Leon Laurent-Pichat and Auguste-Alexis
Pillet, the first the director, the second the printer of a periodical
publication called the _Revue de Paris_, and M. Gustave Flaubert, a man
of letters, all three implicated: 1st, Laurent-Pichat, for having, in
1856, published in the numbers of the 1st and the 15th of December of
the _Revue de Paris_, some fragments of a romance entitled, _Madame
Bovary_ and, notably, divers fragments contained in pages 73, 77, 78,
272, 273, has committed the misdemeanor of outraging public and
religious morals and established customs; 2nd, Pillet and Flaubert are
similarly guilty; Pillet in printing them, for they were published, and
Flaubert for writing and sending to Laurent-Pichat for publication, the
fragments of the romance entitled, _Madame Bovary_ as above designated,
for aiding and abetting, with knowledge, Laurent-Pichat in the facts
which have been prepared, in facilitating and consummating the
above-mentioned misdemeanor, and of thus rendering themselves
accomplices in the misdeameanor provided for by articles 1 and 8 of the
law of May 17, 1819, and 59 and 60 of the Penal Code.
M. PINARD, substitute, has sustained the prosecution.
The COURT, after hearing the defense, presented by M. SENARD for
M. FLAUBERT, M. DEMAREST for PICHAT, and M. FAVERIE for the PRINTER,
has set for audience this day (Feb. 7) for pronouncing judgment, which
is rendered in the following terms:
"_Be it known_, that Laurent-Pichat, Gustave Flaubert and Pillet are
charged with having committed the misdemeanor of an outrage against
public and religious morals and established customs; the first as
author, in publishing in the periodical publication entitled the _Revue
de Paris_ of which he is the manager-proprietor, and in the numbers of
the 1st and 15th of October, the 1st and 15th of November and the 1st
and 15th of December, 1856, a romance entitled _Madame Bovary_, Gustave
Flaubert and Pillet as accomplices, the one for furnishing the
manuscript, and the other for printing the said romance;
"_Be it known_, that the particularly marked passages of the romance
with which we have to do, which include nearly 300 pages, are contained,
according to the terms of the ordinance of dismissal before the Court of
Correction, in pages 73, 77 and 78 (of the number of the 1st of
December), and 271, 272, 273 (of the 15th of December number, 1856);
"_Be it known_, that the incriminated passages, viewed abstractively and
isolatedly, present effectively either expressions, or images, or
pictures which good taste reproves and which are of a nature to make an
attack upon legitimate and honorable susceptibilities;
"_Be it known_, that the same observations can justly be applied to
other passages not defined by the ordinance of dismissal, and which, in
the first place seem to present an exposition of theories which would at
least be contrary to the good customs and institutions which are the
basis of our society, as well as to a respect for the most august
ceremonies of divine worship;
"_Be it known_, that, from these diverse titles, the work brought before
the Court merits severe blame, since the mission of literature should be
to ornament and recreate the mind by raising the intelligence and
purifying manners, rather than by showing the disgust of vice in
offering a picture of disorder which may exist in our society;
"_Be it known_, that the defendants, and particularly Gustave Flaubert,
energetically denied the charge brought against them, setting forth that
the romance submitted to the judgment of the Court had an eminently
moral aim; that the author had principally in view the exposing of
dangers which result from an education not appropriate to the sphere in
which one lives, and that, pursuant to this idea, he has shown the
woman, the principal personage in the romance, aspiring towards the
world and a society for which she was not made, unhappy in her modest
condition where she was placed by fate, forgetting first her duties as a
mother, afterward lacking in her duties as a wife, introducing
successively into her house adultery and ruin, and ending miserably by
suicide, after passing through all degrees of the most complete
degradation, having even descended to theft;
"_Be it known_, that this data, moral without doubt in principle, must
be completed in its development by a certain severity of language and by
a reserve directed especially towards that which touches the exposition
of the pictures and situations which the author has employed in placing
it before the eyes of the public;
"_Be it known_, that it is not allowed, under pretext of painting
character or local colour, to reproduce the facts, words, and gestures
of the digressions of the personages which a writer gives himself the
mission to paint; that a like system, applied to works of the mind as
well as to productions of the fine arts, would lead to a realism which
would be the reverse of the beautiful and the good, and which, bringing
forth works equally offensive to the eye and to the mind, would commit a
continual outrage against public morals and good manners;
"_Be it known_, that there are limits which literature, even the
lightest, should not pass, and of which Gustave Flaubert and the
co-indicted have not taken sufficient account;
"_Be it known_, that the work of which Flaubert is the author, is a work
which appears to be long and seriously elaborated, from a literary point
of view and as a study of character; that the passages coming under the
ordinance for dismissal, as reprehensible as they may be, are few in
number as compared with the extent of the work; that these passages,
either in the ideas they expose, or in the situations they represent,
bring out as a whole the characters which the author wished to paint,
although exaggerated and impregnated with a vulgar realism often
"_Be it known_, that Gustave Flaubert affirms his respect for good
manners, and all that attaches itself to religious morals; that it does
not appear that his book has been written like certain other books, with
the sole aim of giving satisfaction to the sensual passions, to a spirit
of license and debauch, or of ridiculing things which should be held in
the respect of all;
"That he has done wrong only in losing sight of the rules which every
writer who respects himself ought never to lose sight of, or forget:
that literature, like art, in order to accomplish the good which it is
expected to produce ought only to be chaste and pure in its form and
"In the circumstances, _be it known_, that it is not sufficiently proven
that Pichat, Gustave Flaubert and Pillet are guilty of the misdemeanor
with which they are charged;
"The Court acquits them of the indictment brought against them, and
decrees a dismissal without costs."
End of Project Gutenberg's The Public vs. M. Gustave Flaubert, by Various
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